Diversity in the Health Care Professions

Two years ago my younger sister graduated from medical school, and is now a practicing resident.  I was reminded of what a significant accomplishment that is for an African American woman in June when I attended the California Wellness Foundation’s annual conference celebrating leaders committed to increasing diversity in the health care professions.

One plenary session focused on the role of community colleges in preparing the next generation of health care professionals: not only doctors, but the staff with a year or two of training who work as nurses and assistants, radiologists, dieticians, physical therapists, and multiple other roles.   Community colleges make sense as a target for diversifying the professionals working in health care, since nearly two thirds of those attending California’s community colleges are black, Asian or Latino.

What surprised many at the conference, however, was the extent to which preparation for degrees in the health professions is being provided not by community colleges but instead by for-profit institutions.  Our analysis of federal data indicates that in 2010-11, of the 46,000 vocational certificates and associates degrees awarded in health care fields, three out of four were from for-profit colleges.

In keeping with the conference theme we also looked at this data by race and ethnicity.  We found that Latinos earning an allied health credential in California are four times as likely to have attended a for-profit college, and African-Americans are more than three times as likely.  For Asians and whites the for-profit and community college credentialing is closer to even. At the community colleges, students pay about $1,000 per year in tuition, with another $5,000 in costs covered by state and local taxpayers. At the for-profit colleges, students pay an average of $15,000, with most of that coming in the form of federal Pell Grants and student loans.

Too often we look only at public institutions in analyzing workforce training. It is not necessarily good or bad that many credentials in health care are conferred by for-profit colleges, but it is appropriate to ask whether there are ways that the subsidies could be arranged that would better address the emerging needs in the health care workforce in California.

Issues: More College Degrees