Two-year community colleges offer the promise of affordable, flexible education for students who might not otherwise consider post-secondary schooling, and can serve as a cost-effective bridge to a bachelor’s degree. But they may not be a good choice for everyone. Chicago Booth’s Jack Mountjoy finds that community colleges do indeed boost career earnings for students whose education would otherwise have ended after high school, but for the roughly one-third of students who would otherwise have enrolled directly in a four-year college, enrollment in community college means a significantly reduced chance of ultimately receiving a bachelor’s degree—which in turn means lower earnings after college. Mountjoy’s results suggest that policy makers considering expanded access to community colleges should take into account both the democratizing and diversionary effects of such institutions.

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