Health Degrees: A Popular Choice At Community College

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Health Degrees: A Popular Choice At Community College
Many community college students are reaping the rewards of a healthcare career, which explains the popularity of health degrees. Learn about what a new report reveals about healthcare degrees and how it translates to the future of your career.

Community colleges have become popular 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 various healthcare degree programs in a school's course catalog. Although other industries are floundering in the sluggish economy, healthcare remains 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 healthcare field grew by an astonishing 111 percent. In addition, certificates provided by community colleges in the healthcare industry grew by 240 percent during the same time frame. By the end of the 2009-2010 school year, community colleges nationwide awarded more than 177,000 healthcare 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 eligible colleges are not included on the current list. However, most schools not listed were relatively small institutions that rarely impacted the study's results. According to the publication's website, Community College Week is a biweekly publication that provides in-depth information about community colleges across the country.

This video shows a day-long Kaiser Permanente-sponsored Youth Career Day at Kaiser Permanente's Garfield Innovation Center.

Health Care on the Rise?

Over the past decade, reports of an aging workforce and an increased need for healthcare workers in various specialties have 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 area. However, according to a Community College Weekly blog, the recession that hit in 2008 changed the job outlook for the healthcare 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 isn't easy to find a job. The students thought they would have an easy time finding jobs. But, when they graduate, the jobs aren't as plentiful as before."

Today, there may be fewer healthcare jobs and more competition for them, but that has not failed to thwart the enthusiasm for the field. Community colleges with 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 to handle the growing demand.

This prediction has led community colleges to continue to offer healthcare 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."

This video describes how a home or classroom learning, with schedules and formats to fit your life, is possible at community college.

Challenges Facing Health Care Programs

Providing sufficient healthcare degree programs to community college students has its share of challenges. One problem many schools face is the ability to offer adequate clinical settings to ensure students get the proper on-the-job training while in school. For example, in Pittsburgh, the 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 challenging to get their clinical training before 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 significant 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."

This video describes the healthcare program at Mitchell Community College.

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 daycare centers and homeless shelters. Pettigrew explained, "These are atypical settings but provide a good experience. It is 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 healthcare degrees moved from third to second place in the largest degree-producing field, the number of business-related degrees dropped over the last academic year. Also, 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 was surprising.

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