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Our view: Ready-to-work grads key for junior colleges

Herald editorial board

The junior college systems in Minnesota and North Dakota rank among the best in America, and our local community college on the Minnesota side of the Red River holds a lofty spot of prominence in national rankings. So says the company WalletHub, a personal finance website known for all sorts of rankings related to finances and education.

Northland Community Technical College, of East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minn., is the No. 5 junior college in America, according to WalletHub. NCTC's ranking is an individual honor for the school and, in effect, the region. In the state rankings, WalletHub puts Minnesota No. 2 and North Dakota No. 7.

In determining its top rankings, WalletHub calculated a weighted average of scores earned by those colleges and the number of students enrolled at each school. Northland didn't finish among the top in any of the three vital categories, but it ranked well enough across the board to earn its prestigious place. According to WalletHub, Northland was No. 31 in the category of "Education Outcomes," No. 61 in "Career Outcomes" and No. 107 in "Cost and Financing."

One of the key indicators is cost. WalletHub concludes that "cost is often a major consideration" and as costs rise, "many would-be students are unable to afford a university education."

That's important, and it's one hindrance top junior colleges and technical schools are avoiding as they forge beyond a bygone era when two-year trade schools were seen as a consolation to a four-year degree.

According to WalletHub numbers, during the 2017-18 academic year, tuition and fees for full-time, in-state enrollment at a public two-year college averaged $3,570 vs. $9,970 at a four-year public university and $34,740 at a four-year private university. That's quite a cost difference.

Another step the small community colleges have taken is creating classwork that transfers to larger, traditional four-year schools. WalletHub notes that students who earn general-education credits at a community college and then transfer those credits to a public four-year school "can potentially save a lot of money."

And finally, community and junior colleges have fine-tuned their curriculum to answer changing regional professional demands. For example, we know in South Dakota — whose junior college system WalletHub ranks No. 1 in the nation — technical institutes work especially hard to fill important positions in the local job market. That creates instant gratification for graduates and regional employers alike.

Here in the northern Red River Valley, NCTC is doing the same. A look in the Herald archives shows several stories that highlight collaborative efforts between NCTC and the community. In 2016, for instance, we reported that NCTC was working to increase its impact with expanded programs related to manufacturing and the UAS industry.

And here's something else we found in our archives: East Grand Forks-Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce President Barry Wilfahrt said 75 percent of NCTC students stay in the region after graduation.

"That's important to us," Wilfahrt said.

As it should be for everyone else around these parts who relies on the ready-to-work graduates who hail from the nation's No. 5 junior college.

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