University graduates generally earn more than community college graduates, both shortly after graduation and for many years thereafter. This may partially reflect the fact that university programs are generally longer in duration. Most university students enroll in a four-year bachelor’s degree program, whereas most college students enroll in a one-year certificate program or in a two- or three-year diploma program. Recently, some colleges (mostly situated in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia) have been offering four-year bachelor’s degree programs. Given the emergence of these new offerings, it would be informative for students, parents, education planners and employers to know whether college bachelor’s degree (CBD) programs are associated with similar labour market and educational pathways as university bachelor’s degree (UBD) programs. This is the purpose of this study.
The study uses the linked Postsecondary Student Information System–T1 Family File to follow certificate, diploma and bachelor’s degree holders from colleges and universities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Certificate and diploma programs are restricted to career, technical and professional programs, which compose the majority of such programs. Graduates from the classes of 2010 to 2013 are followed for two years after graduation, while graduates from the class of 2010 are followed for up to five years after graduation. The two main outcomes examined include annual wages and salaries and the pursuit of graduate studies.
The results indicate that CBD holders earn about 12% more per year, on average, than UBD holders two years after graduation. Almost all of this gap can be explained by the different field of study choices made by the two groups of students. Compared with their university counterparts, CBD holders were more likely to take programs in business, management and public administration or health and related fields (all of which are generally associated with higher-than-average earnings), and less likely to take education, humanities or social and behavioural sciences and non-professional law programs (all of which are generally associated with lower-than-average earnings). The remainder of the earnings gap could be explained by the fact that CBD holders were more than two years older than UBD holders, on average. The study also showed that UBD holders registered faster earnings growth between two and five years after graduation and were more likely to enroll in graduate studies than their counterparts from colleges.
Offering a bachelor’s degree option in colleges is interesting from a postsecondary education access perspective. While most Canadians have local access to a college, a non-negligible portion does not have local access to a university. Research has demonstrated that youth who grew up living out of commuting distance from a university are generally less likely to attend university and more likely to attend college (Frenette 2003). This is especially the case among youth from lower-income families. Offering bachelor’s degree programs at colleges—particularly those that serve more rural areas—may potentially provide rural youth with similar career options as urban youth. However, the study also demonstrated that CBD programs were concentrated in institutions located near universities and associated with superior labour market outcomes compared with other colleges (as evidenced by the higher-than-average earnings of their diploma holders compared with colleges where bachelor’s degree programs were not offered). Given these findings, it is not clear whether the results from this study would still apply if CBD programs were to expand to other institutions, including those in more rural or remote areas and those associated with lower earnings among their diploma graduates.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree from a Community College: Earnings Outlook and Prospects for Graduate Studies