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Report · December 2016

Career Technical Education in Health: An Overview of Student Success at California’s Community Colleges

Shannon McConville, Sarah Bohn, and Landon Gibson

This research was supported with funding from the Sutton Family Fund.

Career technical education (CTE) has received renewed focus from state and national policymakers interested in improving economic outcomes of students and addressing the state’s workforce needs. California’s community colleges are the state’s primary provider of CTE, also known as vocational education. Career training in health care holds particular promise for students and the state’s economy-health CTE programs attract a large and diverse set of students in California and are linked to growing job opportunities in health services, a generally well-paying industry for Californians with less than a bachelor’s degree.

In this report, we examine outcomes for the 120,000 students who pursued health CTE degrees across California’s community college system over the past decade.

  • Health CTE students are predominantly female and tend to be slightly older than community college students overall, including those enrolled in other CTE programs. However, nearly 60 percent are identified as academically disadvantaged and 70 percent are economically disadvantaged.
  • Health CTE credentials afford sizeable returns to students in California, who earn 50 percent more, on average, after they complete their schooling. Returns do not vary across socioeconomic groups but do vary across the type of credential. Associate degrees afford returns about 2 times larger than long-term certificates and about 10 times larger than short term-certificates. However, even within those categorizations, there is variation across programs, with short term certificates in Paramedic programs resulting in much higher returns than for Medical Assistants, for example.
  • Overall completion rates for health CTE 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 obtain a credential within six years. However, success varies substantially across health programs, ranging from 93 percent in dental hygienist programs to 44 percent in emergency medical services.
  • Although a high share of health students do earn credentials, there are racial and ethnic achievement gaps across health programs. Program choice explains some of the gap, but academic preparation, financial aid, and course-taking behavior (in particular, full-time attendance and persistence) explain almost all of the observed achievement gap.

Policymaker efforts to improve completion rates and reduce achievement gaps could focus on increasing full-time enrollment and consecutive-term enrollment for students after entering health programs. We find that students who enter health training but do not obtain programs may nonetheless be able to enter the health care industry and experience career growth over the long term. But obtaining credentials, particularly in high-reward programs will do the most to improve student and workforce outcomes.


Access Completion Economy Equity Health & Safety Net Higher Education Workforce and Training Workforce Needs