11/28/2012 05:08 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts Is a Poor Investment

It is time we all accept the fact that a traditional four-year liberal arts education is a poor investment for America's middle class. Student debt is now at the $1 trillion mark with graduates of four-year institutions facing an average of $25,000 in debt. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that in 2012, 1.5 million recent college graduates, or 53.6 percent of those students with bachelor's degrees are jobless or underemployed.

Students and their parents need to think carefully before investing the $7,605 a year that the College Board estimates as the average tuition at a public four-year institution. This figure doesn't include room and board, Friday night pizzas, books or lattes.

Today's economy cannot support more art history or philosophy majors. Students and their parents must consider careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). That's where the jobs are and there is an inexpensive, quick way to qualify for these jobs -- enrolling at a community college.

Tuition at the nation's more than 1,000 community colleges averages around $2,713 a year and Pell Grants can cover most of this cost. Community colleges train our nurses, first responders, criminal justice specialists, tech workers, court reporters and lab technicians. All of these jobs pay good median salaries. In addition, community colleges work closely with local businesses to train their workforce. Finally, community college professors often work in their field of study and provide valuable counsel to students.

At Ivy Tech in Indiana, there is a now a significant influx of four-year college graduates, who can't get work enrolling in courses of study that lead directly to employment. This is a trend now taking place around the country. Wouldn't it have been much more realistic and cost-effective for these students to have enrolled in a community college initially rather than accumulating debt at a four-year institution?

Our country is in a financial crisis. We need to let parents and student know that the jobs of the future are in healthcare, manufacturing, technology and other STEM-based careers and the place to prepare for these jobs is at a community college. A four-year liberal arts education is now a luxury that few can afford.

Tom Snyder is President of Ivy Tech in Indiana, the nation's largest singly-accredited community college system. He is the author of The Community College Career Track: How to Achieve the American Dream without a Mountain of Debt (Wiley, September, 2012)