Study suggests community colleges expand programs that lead to higher income

A new study suggests community colleges should expand certain programs to help more students get higher-paying jobs.  

Researchers at Vanderbilt University took a hard look at 1200 community colleges across the country, in the study Student Outcomes at Community Colleges: What factors explain loan repayment and variation in earnings?

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"Why some colleges seem to be doing a much better job of helping students get higher earnings and helping students not take on student loan debt they can’t repay," said Lesley Turner, Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University.

They found associate degrees in construction, engineering technology, and allied health have substantially higher net earnings than consumer science, education, and communications technology, and found overall many community colleges could help students by expanding programs that lead to higher salaries.

"That they know are going to have more lucrative labor market returns, if they can expand those in places that are serving more under-represented minority students, that might be one way, one policy lever community college leaders could pull to improve the outcomes of their students," said Cody Christensen with Vanderbilt University.

We shared the study with local community colleges, who say they already tailor programs to fill higher-paying, local jobs.

"If the demand is high, you’ll see us increase capacity or funnel resources to the program or expand it to another part of the region. And we market the programs that are in demand," said Michael Webster, Associate Vice Chancellor, Workforce Instruction at Houston Community College.


The researchers found Houston Community College's top Associate Degree programs in net earnings are Allied Health, Science Technology, and Engineering Technology, and top certificate programs are allied health, protective services, and computer information systems.  

San Jacinto College just recently expanded its petroleum engineering program.

"Those jobs with a two-year degree on average start at $60,000 and that’s truly on average. Some start higher than that if they’re with the larger companies.  And that’s first year’s salary, five years in they can expect to earn $100,000," said Dr. Allatia Harris, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives at San Jacinto College.


Students wanting to learn which programs could lead them to higher incomes can go to a career center at a community college, or use their online tools.

Texas Reality Check is a tool where can see the salary for different jobs and how much it will cost you to live different lifestyles, such as in a house or apartment, and how often you'd like to dine out.