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Kevin G. Walthers: Public community college more valuable than ever
Guest Commentary

Kevin G. Walthers: Public community college more valuable than ever

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Dr. Kevin Walthers

Dr. Kevin Walthers

As unemployment claims set unprecedented records week after week, Allan Hancock College (AHC) is preparing for a wave of returning students looking to build skills or add credentials as they reenter the job market. As with any crisis, there will be those who seek to profit from the widespread levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Your college is committed to ensuring that our community has access to high quality, affordable education during this time.

Over the years, government agencies, legislators, and think tanks have created many definitions of quality, each consistently showing that community colleges are a value for students and taxpayers alike. Most students attend college to build a path to a better, more secure future, seeing college as an investment in themselves and their family.

Recently, the national think tank, Third Way, developed a new method for measuring quality and return on investment in higher education. They are measuring the “price-to-earnings premium” (PEP) for more than 3,000 colleges and universities. Third Way compares earning outcomes after college to the expected earnings for a high school graduate. The return on investment is calculated as the net price of attendance divided by the difference in earnings between the college student and a high school graduate. As noted by Derek Newton at, not all colleges are a good investment based on this “price to earnings premium.” Newton found that attendance at more than half of for-profit colleges will never pay off for the students who attend them, despite the more than $1 billion these institutions take in annually from the federal government.

Locally, the PEP can be a good tool when deciding where to attend. Our radio and television stations are filled with lofty, optimistic promises from for-profit colleges in our region. An analysis of the PEP measure shows that those promises may not play out in reality for our community. For years, Santa Barbara Business College operated along the Central Coast, only recently selling most of its programs to San Joaquin Valley College. Third Way’s analysis of PEP finds that students attending Santa Barbara Business College should expect to spend 6.6 years to recover their $15,000 per year investment. Students attending San Joaquin Valley College should expect to pay almost $19,000 per year and will need 10.9 years to recover the cost of their education.

The value is much better for the thousands of students at Allan Hancock College. With an annual investment of less than $3,400 per year, Bulldog alums will need only 1.2 years to recoup their investment. Even among California Community Colleges, that payback rate places AHC in the top quartile of schools measured on two-year rates of return. That is good news for workers returning to Hancock looking for an affordable investment that will allow them to get back to work.

We can’t be sure what the coming months will bring us, but you can be sure that no matter what happens, Allan Hancock College will be here for Northern Santa Barbara County. Our faculty and staff are professional educators committed to changing the odds for our community. When it’s time for you, your friends, your neighbors or your employees to come back to school, let them know that their best investment is at their local college – Allan Hancock College.

Kevin G. Walthers Ph.D. is the superintendent/president of Allan Hancock College, a member of the California Community College System. The reports cited above can be found at and


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