Addressing workforce shortages in healthcare



According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “occupations and industries related to healthcare are projected to add the most new jobs between 2012 and 2022.”

With a projected growth of 10.8 percent, successful preparation of students for this industry has never been more important. In 2011-2012, career colleges and universities represented approximately 10 percent of the total student higher education enrollment in Kentucky. In that same period, these schools conferred 24 percent of the health profession and related programs awards in the Commonwealth (IPEDS). With career colleges and schools playing such a vital role in preparing students for careers to meet these demands, increasing knowledge about this sector of higher education is now more important than ever.

Here in Kentucky
Kentucky’s career colleges work closely with numerous employers in the healthcare industry to build a stronger workforce. Practitioners from numerous healthcare organizations serve on advisory boards to develop and seek continuous improvement in course curriculum. Many faculty members also work full time in the fields for which they teach, which not only facilitates the emphasis of skills based education at these institutions, but also ensures methods and tools used in the classroom are current and relevant to reduce the learning curve for students between graduation and employment. Additionally, student externships in these fields provide hands-on experience as part of the learning process.

A National Problem
A report released earlier this year noted that the U.S. is currently ranked 14th of 36 nations in the percentage of 25 to 34 year-olds with an associate degree or higher (College Board Advocacy & Policy Center). Across our nation 37 million adults have started but not completed their degree.

While our schools serve a smaller percentage of students in the overall population, they do have a higher percentage of students who are over 25 years of age, employed full-time, are financially  independent and have children than public or private nonprofit institutions. This is largely due to schedule flexibility, focus on skills based education and the fast paced programs offered by our institutions. The formerly defined non-traditional student is today’s new normal. Not all students seeking to continue their education will successfully fit into one higher education mold.

Determining the appropriate higher education options for each individual will help increase success rates and ensure students are adequately prepared for employment in today’s workforce.

Regional vs. National 
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about higher education revolves around the issue of regional versus national accreditation. Because their primary mission is to help students prepare for employment, many career colleges are nationally accredited.

Both regionally and nationally accredited schools are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as, “reliable authorities on institutional quality and integrity,” and both derive their authority from the Department. Evaluation of colleges is dependent on the stated purpose and mission of that school, therefore, an accredited career college, whose focus is on preparing the student for a career, is often accredited by a national accreditor.

National accreditation is designed to be job specific, career focused and enable schools to educate students who need specific skill sets in order to thrive in their chosen career. Therefore, national accreditors deliberately develop and apply standards to ensure the effectiveness of the institutions of meeting the needs of students in this context.

Such standards include, but are not limited to:
– Pass rates on licensure exams.
– Job placement in the field of study.
– Student retention and completion rates.

Understanding Terms
While many career colleges have existed for over a century, over the past four years, career colleges and schools have been under attack. These attacks are perpetuated by a lack of understanding surrounding terms such as national accreditation and for-profit. While certain media outlets often refer to career colleges as for-profit colleges with the implication that these schools are predators simply trying to make money, ultimately the success of our institutions is evident in the success of our graduates.

In reality, taxpayer expenses per graduate are more than five times more expensive at public colleges than these forprofit colleges. When a for-profit college needs to expand a building, it funds the project itself. A similar project at a public college would be funded by taxpayer dollars.

In the coming weeks, the Department of Education is expected to release regulations on gainful employment. While the intent of this rule was to ensure students are getting an education that brings them economic benefit, the current rule misses its mark.

This arbitrary regulation has the potential to deny millions of student’s access to programs including and harm employers and institutions. Based on 2007-2008 numbers, approximately 43,000 graduates benefited from programs in the healthcare industry alone which would fail this new rule.

Candace Bensel is with the Kentucky Association of Career Colleges and Schools.