In 2001, Florida passed a landmark law allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degree programs in areas of high need, such as teaching and nursing. This law, unique to the state, was an innovative approach to meeting the state’s workforce needs.
Since that time, community college baccalaureate (CCB) degree programs have grown in Florida and around the country. A new analysis by New America looked at Florida’s CCB programs and their labor market outcomes. The study found that, one year after graduating, people who earned a bachelor’s degree at a Florida College System (FCS) institution made about $10,000 more annually than their peers who received associate degrees in similar fields.
Using data from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), the study looked at outcomes for about 35,000 students who graduated with bachelor’s or associate’s degrees from FCS schools between 2016 and 2018. To compare the degree outcomes, the study only included graduates from FCS programs that offer both bachelor’s and associate’s programs. Notably, over half of the sample included graduates with a B.S. in nursing.
The study found CCB graduates are considerably older than both associate graduates and state university bachelor’s graduates. Over half of the FCS bachelor’s graduates were 30 or older. This is not too surprising – the study captured the outcomes of many nursing students, for example, who go back to school in their 30s or 40s to gain a bachelor’s degree. However, 42% of CCB graduates are under 30, and likely students who moved quickly from an associate to a bachelor’s program. This suggests that those who utilize CCB pathways represent a range of ages.
While CCB graduates are generally older than state university graduates, their racial and ethnic composition is similar to the Florida population for most groups. Black, white, and Asian-American/Pacific Islander CCB graduates are each within one percentage point of each group’s share of Florida residents. However, Latinx people in this sample are underrepresented among CCB graduates (20%) compared to the Florida population (26%).
The study makes it clear: bachelor’s degrees pay off. FLDOE data shows CCB graduates earn more than associate graduates in similar fields. Specifically, one year after graduation, CCB graduates earned approximately $10,000 more in annual wages compared to peers with associate’s degrees. This is consistent with outside research that shows graduates with bachelor’s degrees earn more, are more likely to be employed, and are more resilient during tough times than those with associate’s degrees.
However, the study also unveiled some important inequities. For CBB graduates, the bachelor’s degree wage premium is higher for men than it is for women across nearly all areas of study. For example, men with a bachelor’s degree in a health field earned nearly $20,000 more than women with the same degree. Strikingly, women with a bachelor’s degree in a health field earned only $700 more than a man with an associate’s degree in the same field. The study unearthed considerable gender pay gaps in other fields, showing that even when women choose higher-paying career paths, gender disparities remain. Even so, all genders earn more when obtaining their bachelor’s degree.
Florida operates CCB programs at greater scale than any other state, and this study highlights their potential. Community colleges are generally affordable and serve low-income, rural, and underrepresented minority students. Often, they are the only schools that offer accessible bachelor’s degree options near students’ homes or places of work. CCB programs are also specifically tailored to local workforce shortages and labor market demands, and they cannot offer bachelor’s degrees that are already offered at the closest four-year university.
To build a recession-proof economy, all Floridians need to have access to education after high school. The top ten fastest growing jobs in Florida all require degrees and certificates beyond high school, and CCB programs can train students for these in-demand occupations. CCB programs offer an important pathway to support adult and working learners, underserved students, and rural students who have low rates of bachelor’s degree attainment.