Don't Overlook the Community College Certification Option
Here are some interesting stats to consider. According to the AACC (American Association of Community Colleges), there are 1,167 community colleges in the Unites States. They serve a combined enrollment of more than 12 million individuals, which represents nearly half of all undergraduate college students in the country.
There are many reasons why this situation holds. The primary reasons for attending community college include:
Affordability: An average credit hour at a community college costs $141 right now for in-state students; out-of-state students pay an average of $339 per credit hour. Compare that to $749 per credit hour at non-profit two-year institutions, $623 at for-profit two-year schools and $1,492 at non-profit 4-year institutions, and you’ll quickly see where this is going. For more details, see "Cost of a College Class or Credit Hour" from educationdata.org.
Proximity: The average distance from home for all college students is 94 miles, according to a recent study. Given that, for most U.S. residents, a community college is considerably nearer, that helps explain the reason why half of all undergraduates attend one. That makes all the training resources at community colleges available to local residents by deliberate design, along with an equally deliberate approach to workforce development as requested by local employers. This definitely includes focus on IT job training across the board.
Relevance: Because community colleges work with local employers to create programs to prepare students to enter the workforce, students can be sure that what they learn in school will have some utility on the job. For IT training, this means most community colleges offer all the popular entry-level certifications, along with professional and expert level courses to help lower-level IT workers climb their chosen career ladders.
Think Globally, Learn Locally
Just for grins, I compared the costs of IT-centered community college prep courses to those for similar training from companies such as SkillSoft, New Horizons, Firebrand, and so forth (here’s a representative list from 2021).
I ran my analysis for a key collection of entry-level certifications, including the “CompTIA Trinity” (A+, Network+, Security+) along with Cisco's CCNA, ITIL 4 Foundation from AXELOS, PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), and (ISC)²'s Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP).
My reference point was my own local community college, which serves much of central Texas, Austin Community College (ACC). According to Community College Review, ACC is the fourth-largest community college in Texas, with a student body size of 41,056.
ACC is fairly large, pretty comprehensive, to be sure, and designed to serve students in Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties with some campus location no more than 25 miles away for the closest cities, and no more than 75 miles away for the furthest.
In every case, the cost of classroom training at ACC was less than or equal to the cost of online training from major training companies. In nearly all cases, classroom training from those same providers would cost two or more times as much as what the community college charged.
As I related in introducing this topic, cost per credit hour at community colleges is also a bargain compared to the costs of private or public colleges and universities, 2-year, 4-year, or graduate level institutions. Simply put: For those on a budget, who need their dollars to stretch, community college has a lot to recommend itself.
The Mission and the Mantra
Unlike colleges and universities, but very much like training companies, community colleges also seek to provide their students with skills and knowledge directly relevant to workplace tasks and activities. For all community colleges, the notion of serving the community is indeed part of their name and primary function.
This means that when a community college offers an IT training course — many if not most of which target or include certification curricula — it has been purposely designed to provide its attendees with opportunities to learn and practice skills and knowledge that local employers have specifically asked the institution to develop.
To that end, most community colleges also operate job placement offices that work with students who acquire certificates or certifications in the process of completing training programs to hook them up with the employers who asked for such programs to be offered. It’s a neat and virtuous circle, and one that keeps cycling back as students return to their local community colleges to pursue more advanced and specialized training.
I really do understand why President Biden wanted to offer a guaranteed 2-year-college program to all Americans as an extension of our current and compulsory elementary, middle and high school system. Such programs would offer the opportunity for those least likely to pursue, but most likely to benefit from, continuing adult education.
Because Congress almost certainly won’t get its act together and make this a reality in the, I encourage all readers to investigate their local community colleges to see what they have to offer. There's benefit here for for family members, friends, and others they know who are interested in entering the workforce (perhaps in IT).
As educational experiences and opportunities go, community college are a best buy.