Health programs at California’s community colleges hold particular promise for helping students enter in-demand careers and addressing the state’s workforce needs, new PPIC research shows. These career technical education (CTE) programs, also known as vocational education, attract a large and diverse set of students. The state’s community colleges offer a broad range of programs—including nursing, respiratory therapy, medical and dental assisting, and health IT—that are linked to growing job opportunities in health services, a generally well-paying industry for Californians without a bachelor’s degree.
PPIC researchers presented two reports on the topic in Sacramento. Among the key findings summarized by report coauthor Shannon McConville: many students who have earned career tech credentials in health care have seen sizeable wage gains, and completion rates in these programs are relatively high. More than 70 percent of students who begin a program either obtain a degree or transfer to a four-year college within six years, while only about half of the overall CTE student population obtains a credential within six years.
But there is room for improvement. Completion rates vary substantially across health programs, ranging from 93% in dental hygienist programs to 44% in emergency medical services. And there are racial and ethnic achievement gaps across programs.
After the research presentation, an expert panel took up the topic. Anette Smith-Dohring, manager for workforce development at Sutter Health, underscored the need to diversify the health care workforce.
“We want our front-line health care providers to reflect the communities we serve because those are our patients,” she said. “We want them to come from [the] communities we serve—we don’t want to import health care providers.”
Linda Collins, executive director of the Career Ladders Project, which has worked with community colleges, said it is important both to expand career awareness of the range of allied health professions and to improve science proficiency in middle and high school. If a student has “a basic grounding in math and science from the high school level, that will allow a student to take almost any allied health occupation program and be successful,” she said.
All of the speakers provided examples of small-scale programs in community colleges that have improved student success rates—and expressed frustration that the funding has not been consistent enough to expand them.
Linda Zorn, statewide director of the California Community Colleges Health Workforce Initiative, summed up: “Programs that provide structure and clarity about what students need to take, and integrate both proactive and embedded student supports in the instructional experience, are critical.”
Read Career Technical Education in Health: An Overview of Student Success at California’s Community Colleges
Read Health Training Pathways at California’s Community Colleges
Visit the PPIC Higher Education Center