Skip Navigation

Community College Completion and Middle-Skill Occupational Demand in Rural California


Description: This study focuses on an important piece of the postsecondary-to-workforce pipeline: the link between community college training programs and the demand for "middle-skill" occupations. Middle-skill occupations are those that generally require education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree, including associate's degrees, vocational certificates, significant on-the-job training, previous work experience, or generally "some college" less than a bachelor's degree. Examples include dental hygienists, computer user support specialists, and paralegals and legal assistants. In California, middle-skill occupations are expected to account for as many as 1 million new jobs over the next decade, with an additional 1.4 million job openings created due to replacement of current workers who will exit from the field.

This study aims to shed light on the issue of the alignment between local educational offerings and workforce needs by examining the number of degrees and certificates attained by recent graduates of California community colleges in four rural regions and determining the extent to which those credentials align with regional occupational demand. Specifically, this study will describe the high-level patterns of community college degree and certificate production by program of study, compare these patterns against historical and projected job openings in aligned middle-skill occupations, and evaluate the overall balance of middle-skill workforce supply and demand for the major occupation groups in each of the four identified regions.

Research Questions: REL West seeks to answer one primary research question with three sub-questions.

  1. To what extent are the patterns of community college completion aligned with middle-skill occupational demand within each of four rural California regions (Central Valley and Mother Lode North; Central Valley and Mother Lode South; Northern Coastal; and Northern Inland)?
    1. What are the average annual number of middle-skill job openings, and average annual projected employment growth for each occupation in rural California?
    2. What is the average annual number of rural California community college completers by program of study, college, and award conferred?
    3. At the occupation level, to what extent are the patterns of community college completion aligned with the average annual middle-skill job openings?

Study Design: Data included in this study will be sorted, merged by county, and then aggregated to the regional level in a statistical programming environment. The estimates of the average annual job openings will be reported at the regional level for various occupations along with other information (e.g., typical entry-level education, experience, and training) for the period of 2014 to 2017, and projected growth of occupations will be estimated for a three-year period (2017 to 2020).

To describe the job market for middle-skill occupations in rural California (research question 1a), REL West will use Labor Market Information data to produce descriptive statistics (numbers or percentages) regarding average annual job openings, entry-level wage, experienced wage, and projected employment growth for middle-skill occupations crosswalked to community college programs available in rural California. The wages will be compared to the living wages in the regions. The research team will describe the middle-skill occupations in all industries that offer living wages in each of four rural regions. The high-demand occupations that do not offer living wages will also be noted in the report. The projected occupational growth levels (demand) will be highlighted, but due to data limitations, the future projected supply levels (completions) are not included in this study.

To understand the landscape of community college completion for middle-skill occupations (research question 1b), REL West will calculate the number of rural California community college completers by program of study and award conferred. The descriptive statistics will reveal the average annual number of community college completers who achieved an award in each community college program of study.

Finally, REL West will include descriptive statistics to show the middle-skill occupation demand (average annual job openings) and supply (average annual community college awards conferred including associate degrees, associate for transfer, and certificates and noncredit awards at all unit levels) by occupation for each rural region. For each occupation, the tables will show typical entry-level education requirement, the projected annual job openings, and the annual average community college awards that are conferred in education programs that are related to each occupation.

The study will conclude by offering some high-level observations regarding the patterns of the supply of community college completers and middle-skill occupational demand by geographic area, program of study, and attained education level, and describing the ways in which the administrators and policymakers may strengthen the alignment between the supply of and the demand for middle-skill workforce.

Projected Release Data: Late 2019

Research Alliance: California Rural Partnerships Alliance

Study Related Products: What's Happening Report

Principal Investigators & Affiliation:
Mary Rauner, REL West