With students heading back to classes at colleges and universities throughout the country, there have been a number of interesting and informative articles looking at what students are learning and the value of a college degree in the midst of the current economic recession.

I wrote previously about the perspective of Professor Walter E. Williams, “What Will They Learn?” As a foundation for his commentary, Williams uses the Corporate Voices’ 2006 research report, “Are They Really Ready to Work?”

Now an article by Sandra Block in USA Today asks the question, “In a Recession, Is College Worth It?”

The short answer is yes.

But one of the many points in the article is this: Many students are having a difficult time paying for the increasing costs of a college education, and taking on substantial debt in the form of student loans is an iffy strategy at at time when jobs are scarce.

One solution: community colleges.

Here’s from the USA Today article:

Community college enrollment is soaring. More than 90% of community college presidents said enrollment was up in January from the previous year, and 86% reported an increase in full-time students, according to a survey by the Campus Computing Project, which studies the role of information technology in higher education.

Alyssa Griffin, 19, of Columbus, Ohio, would like to obtain a bachelor’s degree in interactive media from Capital University, a private school in Bexley, Ohio. But to save money, she plans to spend her freshman and sophomore years at Columbus State Community College and live at home.

This strategy means Griffin will miss out on a traditional four-year college experience, but it will significantly reduce the cost of her college education — by more than $40,000. Tuition at Capital runs more than $27,000 a year, vs. about $6,000 at Columbus State.

“I have no issues with starting at Columbus State and then going on to Capital,” Griffin says.

Community colleges have long provided a way for adults to learn new job skills, often by attending part time. But these days, they’re seeing a big increase in students such as Griffin, says Will Kopp, vice president for institutional advancement at Columbus State.

The median age of new students at Columbus State is 19, he says. By attending their first two years at a community college, Kopp says, “they’re paying maybe a third of the tuition at state universities; maybe a tenth what they’d pay at a private school.”

A recently released Corporate Voices’ research study on workforce readiness training points to community colleges as a way to help solve the problem of an ill-prepared workforce.

And in our workforce readiness policy papers and recommendations for alternative pathways to help young people make a successful transition from school to the workplace we examine the important role of community colleges in postsecondary education.