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Is it Worth it to Pursue a Degree in Health Care Support?

By Judith B. Kaplan

In the next decade, health care support professionals will be critical to the delivery of medical services. According to information cited by the University of Phoenix Research Institute, the health care industry will generate over 3 million new jobs by 2018. A significant number of these future health care providers will graduate from U.S. community colleges that offer affordable options for students to earn health-related certifications and associate degrees.

The turbulence of the economic crisis and record unemployment have many adult students returning to school to learn new skills in hopes of finding stable jobs. However, before they invest in further education, such individuals typically want to know how a college degree will influence their future career opportunities. They frequently ask:

·         Where can I make the most money?

·         Will I have a hard time finding a job?

A national study by the University of Phoenix Research Institute provides adult learners with valuable information to help them answer these questions. Melody Pope, the study’s lead researcher, and Ruby A. Rouse, Executive Director of Research at the University of Phoenix Research Institute, analyzed educational costs and starting salary information to determine the potential return on educational investment (ROEI) for students who graduated with health and science-related degrees in 2010.

Using data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and the College Board, Pope and Rouse reported the average starting salary for health and science-related majors in 2010 was $39,490, an increase of 10.3 percent from 2009. This was 52 percent higher than the average starting salary of individuals who only earned a high school diploma. Additionally, the ROEI of such degrees was strong. According to Pope and Rouse, students who remain employed while working on health and science-related degrees were forecasted to earn an average ROEI of 26 percent. Students who do not work while taking similar classes were predicted to receive an average 14 percent ROEI.

In a difficult economy, these findings are extremely helpful to students considering a career in health care support. Starting salaries are solid—and offer strong ROEI. More importantly, demand will remain high for workers in health care support professions, such as nurse assistants, phlebotomists, and electrocardiograph (EKG) and pharmacy technicians.

As someone who works with hundreds of community college students pursuing health-related degrees, I have observed that one of the biggest challenges facing adult students is fear. In my experience, about 80 percent of the undergraduates are older, “nontraditional” students who have been out of school for many years. As a result, they are not sure whether returning to school is “worth it.” Unlike traditional undergraduates who typically enroll shortly after graduating from high school and are financially supported by their parents, nontraditional college students are usually self-supporting, working adults who may have children of their own. As a result, cost is often a primary factor influencing their educational decisions. Community colleges provide an affordable option.

Once enrolled in health-support programs, adult students tend to thrive. Their motivation to succeed is high. Several of my students have shared:

“I am the first one in my family to go to college.”

“I want to do this for my children so they will go to college.”

“I want to make a difference—and with a college degree I will.”

While earning a health-support degree is challenging, students are thrilled when they participate in externships and eventually graduate. I recently observed a group of nontraditional electrocardiograph students who participated in their first externship. As I watched them walk down the hall, they were so proud to be in uniform—and excited about making a difference in their new role. Externship students’ first day “on the job” demonstrated the importance of what they learned in class. They talked nonstop about working in an actual hospital with professionals who eagerly supported one another. The opportunity to apply their health-support skills to real-life situations made the long hours of attending classes worth it. 

While physicians and nurses represent the most visible roles in the field, a variety of health care support professionals routinely assist the doctors and RNs who provide medical care to Americans across the country. Pope and Rouse’s results provide valuable information about whether a health and science-related degree is financially worth the investment. As community college leaders, we are in a unique position to guide students into the correct health-related field and empower them with the confidence to overcome their fears about returning to school—making their investment also emotionally “worth it.”


Read the executive summary or learn more at www.phoenix.edu/institute 

Judith B. Kaplan is a community college instructor and recent Doctor of Health Administration graduate of the University of Phoenix.

Opinions expressed in Is it Worth it to Pursue a Degree in Health Care Support? are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.




Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 08/17/2011 at 10:49 AM | Categories: Partners & Friends -