Two-Year College Degree Becoming the New Normal

by DeSandra Washington – Associate Vice President for Academic Support at Fayetteville Technical Community College / Nov 27, 2019

Having a two-year college degree is the new normal. More and more students realize they can be just as successful and a productive member of society with a two-year degree. If a desire to succeed is all that is needed to take steps toward a better life, former President Barack Obama says that community colleges are the vessel to achieve this dream. 

A favorite theme of politicians in both parties lately has been the importance of vocational training programs. Obama, for instance, spoke in 2009 at Hudson Valley Community College on how community colleges are a vessel in which “people of all ages and backgrounds, even in the face of obstacles, even in the face of very difficult personal challenges, can take a chance on a brighter future for themselves and their family.”  

Likewise, President Donald Trump has spoken at several public events expressing his support of vocational education. As the associate vice president of academic support at a community college and a staunch supporter of community colleges, I have witnessed the benefits of student success at such institutions. The open-door policy of community colleges, which involves meeting students where they are, supporting their aspirations, and helping them navigate the institution often results in students being academically, socially, and emotionally prepared to become productive members of their community upon completion. 

The open-door policy of community colleges ... often results in students being academically, socially, and emotionally prepared to become productive members of their community."

A major factor that is becoming more of a consideration for students attending community colleges, along with lower tuition costs and saving money, is an opportunity to jumpstart their careers in two years instead of four. In speaking with students who are contemplating their future employment prospects, it is very rewarding to share that the fastest growing careers only require a two-year associate's degree. In fact, the American Association of Community Colleges notes that three of the top 10 careers have been attained through associate’s degrees in the fields of engineering technology, allied health, and vocational/technical.

Moreover, salaries associated with these degrees are just as good or better than careers attained with a bachelor's degree. An article by CNN Money mentions that graduates with an associate’s degree earn nearly 30% more that graduates with a bachelor’s degree. The article further stressed that over 29 million jobs paying middle-class wages only require an associate’s degree as opposed to a bachelor’s degree.

It is important for students to know there are other helpful and successful options that go beyond matriculating from a traditional four-year college or university. More learning options, such as an associate’s degree, can also make for a better life. For whatever career imaginable, oftentimes it is obtainable at a community college. There will always be a need for skilled workers in local communities—have you priced the cost to have a plumber at your home?

DeSandra Washington is an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow who has participated in convenings designed to identify culturally responsive practices and further support-building evidence and capacity for this work. Learn more about this project.


American Association of Community Colleges. (2017). Community colleges: addressing the skills gap

Associated Press. (2009 September 21). President Barack Obama speaks today at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Syracuse NY Local News.

Fain, P. (2018 May 21). Republicans like higher ed. Inside Higher Ed.

Marcus, J. (2013 February 26). Community college grads out-earn bachelor’s degree holders. CNN Money.