As noted in the introduction, at the outset of this project Westat felt that increases in earnings induced by program participation would be the best measure of market responsiveness of a community college program. This view was based on the economic principle that the greater the earnings of a former student (over what they would be in the absence of college attendance) the greater is the value of the training to the employer paying the student’s salary. Thus, they used measures of earnings gains by field-of-study derived from earlier studies as indicators of the market responsiveness of the nine colleges that provided the needed field-of-study data.
In this section Westat uses a new data set that was provided by one state, Florida, to examine the earnings of program completers and graduates by field-of-study for all Florida community colleges, and then examine differences in the distribution of enrollments and completions in the three Florida colleges in the sample: Indian River, Seminole, and Valencia.
5.1 Earnings by Field of Study
Table 5 displays the number of enrollees and the number of program completers and graduates for Florida community colleges in academic year 1997-98, plus the earnings of the completer or graduate in the first quarter of each year spanning the period starting four years prior to completion and ending four years after completion (since most completers and graduates left in calendar year 1998 we designated 1998 as year 0). We were able to track earnings in six fields: Technology and Engineering, Building Trades and Manufacturing, Public Services, Liberal Arts, Nnvocational or Leisure, and Miscellaneous fields.
The six fields in Table 5 are listed in order of average earnings in the first quarter of 2000 through 2002. Completers and graduates in technology and engineering fields had the highest earnings, about $4,300 per quarter, which was 45.4 percent higher than completers and graduates in leisure-related fields. Earnings were only about 5 percent lower among completers and graduates in building trades and manufacturing fields and in public service fields (such as law enforcement and education).
Overall, these results suggest that wage record data provides a useful indicator of the value of program completion. Of particular importance, there were only small differences in the earnings of completers and graduates in different fields prior to leaving the community colleges. This suggests that there were not substantial differences in factors likely to affect earnings in the absence of completing programs in different fields. However, these results are far from definitive because we did not adjust post-program earnings for factors such as age and work-experience, nor did we take into account the possibility that community college completers and graduates entered four-year colleges.
Table 5. Earnings of Program Graduates Leaving Florida Community Colleges in 1998
Earnings in dollars in the first quarter of:
Years relative to departure from college in 1998:
5.2 Distribution of Enrollment and Completion
Table 6 shows the distribution of enrollment and completion, as well as the percent of enrollees completing the six fields-of-study shown in Table 5, plus enrollees in agriculture programs that had too small a sample to obtain meaningful wage-record data results. The pattern of enrollment (and completion) shown in Table 6 differs substantially across the three colleges in the sample. Almost half of the enrollees at Indian River were in miscellaneous fields, a rate which was about twice that at Seminole and Indian River. There also were large differences in the proportion of enrollees in associates in arts programs. These proportions were 35.5 percent, 47.3 percent, and 70.8 percent in Indian River, Seminole, and Valencia, respectively.
Perhaps most importantly, Seminole had by far the highest proportion of enrollees in the three fields that appeared to generate the greatest earnings gains—Building Trades and Manufacturing, Public Service, and Technology and Engineering. About 22.9 percent of Seminole enrollees were in these three fields compared to 15.4 percent of Indian River enrollees, and 7.9 percent of Valencia enrollees. Thus, objective evidence suggests that there were substantial differences in the focus of these three colleges. Valencia appeared to be most heavily focused on transfer programs, and possibly, career-oriented humanities programs. Seminole had by far the strongest focus on programs that were likely to directly lead to high-paying jobs in technical and public service occupations. Indian River had a more mixed program with substantial fractions in both arts and technical programs, as well as a particularly heavy concentration of enrollees in the miscellaneous category, which may include programs designed to enhance general education and skills of use in trade and other service sector jobs.
Moreover, it appears that these quite different focuses are highly consistent with what Westat learned about the differences in the industrial mix in the areas. One would expect that Seminole would have the most technically oriented programs as it has several aerospace, communications, and other high-tech firms nearby. Similarly, Valencia would be expected to serve students in the wealthier areas of Orlando interested in transferring to four-year colleges, and also interested in getting jobs in the media production departments at Disney and Universal studies, as well as in hospitality-related occupations. Indian River, which is a fairly rural area on the fringe of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, would be expected to have fewer enrollees interested in going on for four-year degrees than Valencia, and fewer enrollees interested in technical training than Seminole, which is far better endowed with high-tech firms.