Community college baccalaureate holders out earn university graduates

Graduates of baccalaureate programs at community colleges in Washington state had higher earnings, especially in the first year, than graduates of regional public four-year universities in the state who earned degrees in the same fields, a new study finds.

Community college baccalaureate (CCB) graduates are also more likely to attain a job in their field, the University of Washington report says.

The study looked at people who earned bachelors of applied science degrees in business, computer and information science, healthcare, and visual and performing arts at community and technical colleges. Researchers compared the employment and earnings outcomes of that group with people who earned degrees in those fields from public universities.

However, there are key difference in both sets of students and degree programs that complicate the data. Community colleges have more students of color, for example. Also, Washington state requires baccalaureate programs at community colleges to not duplicate programs at universities.

Earnings breakdowns

Researchers found CCB graduates had higher earnings than university graduates in all areas except healthcare in the first and fourth quarters. However, in the 12th quarter, university graduates who earned degrees in healthcare and business had higher earnings.

CCB graduates in computer and information science had higher earnings in the first and fourth quarters. But the CCB program in that field is too new to provide data for the 12th quarter.

The fact that university graduates out earn CCB graduates in healthcare could be attributed to differences in program composition. The university programs have a larger number of nursing students, while the CCB programs include more students with other majors, such as radiation technology, dental hygiene, respiratory care and public health, as well as nursing.

Demographic differences

When the data are disaggregated by race and gender, the study found important differences.

Male graduates of both CCB and university programs earn more than their female counterparts.

“In fact, the difference between male and female graduates is far greater than the difference between the overall group of CCB graduates and university graduates,” the report says.

The only area where female graduates earn more than male graduates is in the CCB computer and IT program. At one year past graduation, female CCB graduates had an average annual salary of $60,800, while male CCB graduates earned $50,400.

The study found consistently higher earnings for white students among both CCB and university graduates.

Among graduates in healthcare, African-American CCB graduates had the lowest earnings in the first and fourth quarters. By the 12th quarter, those graduates were approaching parity with their university peers.

Latinx graduates who complete CCB degrees in business have higher wages than their university counterparts. Latinx CCB graduates in business have an average salary of $42,800 in the first quarter and $52,800 in the 12th quarter. That compares to $31,600 and $48,800, respectively, for university graduates.

Researchers say this difference can be due in part to the fact that Latinx community college students have more work experience by the time they graduate than Latinx university students.

Better employment outcomes

According to the study, CCB graduates had better employment outcomes, at least initially. CCB graduates had a 75 percent employment match rate on average while university graduates had a 69 percent match rate in the first quarter after graduation.

In the fourth quarter, CCB graduates had a 77 percent match versus a 70 percent match for university graduates. In the 12th quarter, the match rate for both groups was 70 percent.

The study notes the higher CCB match rate could be due to the fact that more university students move out of state. Also, CCB graduates are older and might have higher initial employment levels.

Looking beyond three years after graduation, “both groups show strong growth in earnings,” the report says. And there is “some evidence that university graduates catch and surpass CCB graduate earnings.”

Also noting that CCB graduates are more diverse than their university counterparts, the report says “these demographic differences need to be accounted for to understand labor market outcomes.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.