Community colleges have become a popular place for students of all ages to get the training they need to move into a rewarding and lucrative career. Despite concerns over budget cuts
and diminishing completion rates
, a new report by Community College Week shows that many schools nationwide are continuing to churn out large numbers of graduates. One secret to higher completion rates appears to be the inclusion of the variety of health care degree programs
in a school’s course catalogue. Although other industries are floundering in the current sluggish economy, health care continues to be a strong option for those looking for a recession-proof career
What the Numbers Show
The current report by Community College Week
shows that over the past decade, the number of associate degrees
offered by community colleges in the health care field grew by an astonishing 111 percent. Certificates offered by community colleges in the health care industry grew by 240 percent during the same time frame. By the end of the 2009-2010 school year, community colleges across the country awarded more than 177,000 health care degrees alone.
The study conducted by Community College Week used data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set (IPEDS). According to the Community College Week website, while the information was complete for each college listed, all of the eligible colleges are not included on the current list. However, most of the schools not listed were relatively small institutions that rarely impact the overall results of the study. Community College Week is a biweekly publication that provides in-depth information about community colleges across the country, according to the publication’s website
Health Care on the Rise?
Over the past decade, reports of an aging workforce and an increased need for health care workers
in an array of specialties has driven many community college students into degree programs within this field. From dental hygienists
to respiratory therapists, this industry has been booming for many looking for work in a stable and rewarding field. According to a Community College Weekly blog, the recession that hit in 2008 changed the job outlook for the health care industry somewhat, as retirements were delayed and laid-off workers
turned to this field as a stable way to make a living.
Patricia Gray, vice president for healthcare education initiatives at Cuyahoga Community College
in Cleveland, Ohio, told Community College Weekly
, “Graduates have to be very persistent. Right now, it is very difficult to find a job. The students thought they would have an easy time finding jobs. When they graduate, the jobs aren’t as plentiful as before.”
Today, there may be fewer health care jobs and more competition for them, but that has not failed to thwart the enthusiasm for the field. Community colleges that are boasting the highest completion rates continue to offer a wealth of degree programs within health care, including nursing
, physical therapy
and radiology technology. Most experts agree that the current hiring slowdown will be a temporary trend, since workers in nursing and other fields continue to age and will be forced to retire eventually. The new health care reform will also provide more Americans with health insurance coverage, increasing the need for qualified providers of all kinds to handle the growing demand.
This prediction has led community colleges to continue to offer health care programs in anticipation of additional job openings in the not-so-distant future. Gray explained, “We are continuously partnering with the facilities in this community. Our president has recognized that health care will be a big employer in northeast Ohio. As much as we can, we try to meet their needs. We are trying to learn from them.”
Challenges Facing Health Care Programs
The ability to provide sufficient health care degree programs to community college students is not without its share of challenges. One problem many schools face is the ability to offer sufficient clinical settings to ensure students get the proper on-the-job training while in school. In Pittsburgh, Community College of Allegheny County is finding that while the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is now the number one employer in the region, students find it difficult to get their clinical training prior to graduation.
Richard Allison, dean of CCAC academic affairs, told Community College Week that finding sufficient clinical settings for thousands of students every year can be a major hurdle for the school. Allison said, “That is our number one challenge. We have to work very hard at maintaining relationships. We use a couple of hundred clinical sites. They range from doctor’s offices to large hospitals. It’s a constant challenge.”
Amy C. Pettigrew, dean of nursing at Miami Dade College
agrees. She told CCW that her school had to get creative in finding clinical settings for students, which now include day care centers and homeless shelters. Pettigrew explained, “These are atypical settings, but they provide good experience. It is really more the type of place they will end up working. The students have to change their expectations. Very few will work in an acute care setting.”
The report from Community College Week also found that while health care degrees moved from third to second place on the largest degree producing field, the number of business-related degrees actually dropped over the last academic year. Also surprising was the prevalence of general studies degree programs that allowed students to transfer credits to a four-year university
more readily or customize a degree program to their specific needs and interests.