Community College Bachelor’s Degrees in Texas

A First Look at Enrollment and Outcomes
Women enrolled at a Texas community college study together.
Feb. 12, 2024


Representing the first look at data on Texas students participating in community college bachelor’s (CCB) degree programs, this brief explores the demographic characteristics of these students and the labor market outcomes of graduates. Building on a large body of research on CCB degrees published by our team, we find that Texas CCB students are slightly younger than CCB students in other states. We also find that Latina women are graduating in high numbers from these programs, though gender pay gaps do persist.


Everything is bigger in Texas. The state’s population grew more than any other from 2022 to 2023, keeping the Lone Star State the second most populous state in the nation, with over 30 million residents. Texas is also the second youngest state, with a median age of 36, representing a massive workforce primarily composed of young people. The state’s racial and ethnic diversity further sets it apart. Forty percent of the population is Latine, compared to just over 19 percent nationwide, and nearly one in five Texans was born outside the United States. During this time of rapid growth and economic potential, the state is working to ensure that Texans can get the education and training they need to contribute to the state’s flourishing economy.

Yet, while approximately 43 percent of white Texans have at least a bachelor’s degree, only 29 percent of Black Texans and 19 percent of Latine Texans do. The state needs to ensure that educational and economic opportunities reach residents equitably, while also welcoming new workers. One education and workforce strategy growing rapidly in the state is the use of community colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degree programs.

Texas is not alone in using CCB programs to encourage bachelor’s degree attainment and offer new opportunities for better jobs and higher wages. Since the first state allowed CCBs in 1989, an increasing number have introduced and expanded the authority for community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees in applied fields, with 24 states currently authorizing the practice and a few more actively considering adoption. These bachelor’s programs are designed to align with local economic opportunities and often build on applied associate degrees already offered by the community college. Nationwide, over 25,000 students earned a bachelor’s degree at a community college in 2022.

As conferral authority expands to new states and institutions, state policymakers and practitioners need more information about who enrolls in these programs and what happens to graduates in the labor market so they understand how these degrees can serve a population that may not otherwise obtain a bachelor's degree, especially racially minoritized students and those in rural areas. To what extent do these programs provide graduates access to good jobs?

This brief represents the first analysis of CCB graduates in the Lone Star State. Our purpose is to describe who enrolls in and graduates from these programs in terms of demographics and rurality, as well as how many students graduate and in what areas of study. We also analyze wage outcomes of CCB graduates, illuminating trends by demographics and program areas.

Key Findings

  • Students in CCB programs are, on average, older than those in associate degree-granting programs at community colleges or students at traditional colleges and universities. However, students in CCB programs in Texas are slightly younger than those in other states.
  • Gender is highly correlated with area of study, and stubborn gender pay differences exist for the same degree. The bachelor’s degree wage premium is higher for men than for women, across nearly all areas of study covered in this report.
  • CCB students who enrolled and graduated in Texas are predominantly female, Latine, and recipients of Pell Grants. A phenomenal 80 percent of graduates received a Pell Grant.
  • 2018 graduates of Texas CCB programs are earning a median wage of $44,102 three years after graduation, which is comparable to Texans with bachelor’s degrees writ large.

Research Questions, Data, and Methods

First, we explore questions relating to demographics and areas of study of students who enrolled in a CCB program, then we apply the same question to graduates. Finally, we address research questions relating to the wages that CCB graduates realize.

  1. What are the demographics of CCB enrolled students? In what areas of study are students enrolled? How many students are enrolled in rural-serving institutions? We used the most recent enrollment data available from the state of Texas to examine demographics and areas of study of enrolled students to give the most up-to-date picture of the landscape.[1] Examining changes in demographics and areas of study can provide additional information on the extent to which CCB programs are meeting their potential to provide access to underserved populations.
  2. What are the demographic characteristics of Texas community college baccalaureate graduates? In what areas of study do we find graduates? How many students are graduating from rural-serving institutions? A better understanding of the demographics of CCB students overall and by degree program area sheds light on the potential contribution these programs may provide to equitable college completion and a thriving economy, particularly when analyzed by race/ethnicity and rurality.
  3. What are the wage outcomes of Texas CCB graduates, and how do wages vary by demographic group? Analyzing wages for bachelor’s degree program graduates can shed light on the relative payoff for pursuing a bachelor’s degree and illuminate the value that the market places on bachelor’s degrees granted by community colleges. Beyond questions of program access, analysis of variation in wage outcomes for CCB programs by demographic group can help identify areas of persistent income inequality.

We address these research questions using aggregate CCB enrollment and graduate data provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (TXHECB) in response to a New America data request. These data include area of study,[2] race/ethnicity, gender, age group, and college, where sample sizes were sufficient to report. Student enrollment data were from 2021, representing the most recent year for which data were available at the time of the request. CCB graduate data spanned from 2018 to 2020. We conducted basic descriptive analyses of these data to reveal trends in student or graduate identities and labor market outcomes. The following sections present our findings and analysis corresponding to our research questions.

CCB Policy and Programs in Texas

Texas’s CCB experience began over 20 years ago. In 2003, state legislation authorized three community colleges to pilot up to three baccalaureate programs each. During the pilot phase, a total of nine programs were developed at the three institutions and a fourth college was permitted to join them in the mid-2010s. In 2017, the CCB pilot status was lifted and bachelor’s program authorization was expanded. Since then, as Figure 1 below shows, Texas community colleges have quickly adopted the CCB. Nursing programs have embraced the change especially quickly.

However, the 2017 CCB expansion legislation did include a few caveats. First, no one community college could offer more than three bachelor’s programs, except colleges that participated in the CCB pilot program, which could offer up to five (additional legislation passed in 2021 further expanded CCB authorization so that any eligible college can offer up to five bachelor’s programs). Per the 2017 law, CCB programs are still required to meet local labor market needs and must be limited to programs in “applied science, applied technology, and nursing,” including early childhood education within an applied science program. Finally, while no institutions are called out specifically, several rural-serving Texas community colleges are still prohibited from offering any bachelor’s degrees, because state statute requires that a community college have at least $6 billion of taxable property in its tax district in order to offer a bachelor’s program, unless the college only wishes to offer a bachelor’s degree program in nursing, in which case the requirement for taxable property is $4 billion. This requirement prevents several small, rural-serving community colleges in remote areas from offering bachelor’s programs, regardless of what other bachelor’s degree options are available in the local area or are needed in the local labor market.

At the time of this writing, 17 Texas community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in 32 programs. Given the 2017 legislation expanding CCB authorization in Texas, a growing number of community colleges launched bachelor’s programs and produced graduates over the years, for which the TXHECB provided data for this report.[3]

Examining CCB Enrollment

The following figures show the scale of CCB enrollment in Texas as of 2021. Some of the early pilot programs are now well established, with high enrollment. Others have been launched much more recently following the state’s 2017 legislation dramatically expanding which community colleges could offer bachelor’s programs, allowing selected new areas of study, and expanding the allowable number of bachelor’s programs per community college. The figures show how Texans are accessing these programs and which demographic groups within the state are enrolling, starting in Figure 2 with a broad look at characteristics of CCB students across the state.

In Texas, Latine students are availing themselves of CCB programs in large numbers. While Latine individuals make up 40 percent of the population of Texas, they accounted for no fewer than 78 percent of those enrolled in CCB programs (2021) in any year of our data. However, a deeper dive into these numbers reveals an important caveat. In 2021, there were 2,477 CCB students enrolled across seven community colleges in Texas. About 75 percent of these students were enrolled at South Texas College, a heavily Latine-serving institution that serves Hidalgo and Starr counties, including the city of McAllen. The population in Hidalgo and Starr counties is 93 percent and 96 percent Hispanic, respectively, and these two counties had bachelor’s degree attainment levels of 20.1 percent and 12.7 percent, compared to a national rate of 34.3 percent. South Texas College was one of the institutions included in the state’s 2003 CCB pilot program, and its programs are well established, with strong enrollment. The large enrollment at South Texas College and the demographics of the area likely explain the very high representation of Latine students in our data, though our data did not allow us to break out enrollment by individual college and racial/ethnic group at the same time, due to small n-sizes. Regardless, creating access to bachelor’s degrees for a local population that is underrepresented among bachelor’s degree earners is a win for students, colleges, and local economies.[4]

Meanwhile, Black students were underrepresented across all years of data relative to their share of the adult population in Texas. Additionally, both the raw number and share of white CCB students are growing, likely due to the quick growth in nursing bachelor’s programs, as the registered nurse workforce continues to be a predominantly white.

Enrollment by age group remained relatively stable over the four years of data used for this report. The number of students under 25 grew more than any other age group. And enrollment of students 40 and over grew as well, with a particular uptick starting in 2020. This shift is likely due to the growth in nursing programs following the 2017 authorization of CCB programs in this area of study. These RN-BSN programs, as they are called, cater to nurses who already have workforce experience and whose employers aim to have a higher share of nurses with bachelor’s degrees in their workforce.

However, these age-group data make Texas stand out compared to states with a longer CCB history, such as Florida and Washington. The data from Texas show that the group with the largest enrollment were younger students (Figure 3). These programs have historically catered to older students wishing to build upon previous college credits or an associate degree after several years in the workforce. The fact that nearly 40 percent of Texas CCB students were under 25 is noteworthy and merits further exploration in future research.

Our analysis revealed a significantly higher percentage of female students than male students in the CCB population (Figure 4). In Texas, women make up nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of CCB students. Nationally, women made up 59 percent of enrollment in community colleges in 2020, a smaller share than what we observed in the Texas CCB data. Since many of these programs are in female-dominated health professions such as nursing, it is perhaps unsurprising that the share of women enrolled in CCB programs in the Lone Star State has grown each year from 2018 to 2021 and that it exceeds women’s overall enrollment in community colleges nationwide.

In 2021, 79 percent of Texas CCB students had received a Pell Grant at some point during their college education, compared to 32 percent of undergraduates nationwide, suggesting that CCB programs are providing an important access point to bachelor’s programs for low-income Texans (Figure 5).

Figure 6 depicts the number of CCB students enrolled in key areas of study, covering almost all CCB programs in the state. Enrollment in business programs represented the largest group across all four years of our data. However, other areas of study saw greater increases in enrollment, due to the introduction of additional health professions programs, particularly the launch of nursing programs in 2019. Enrollment in computer and information science programs remained relatively stable from 2018 to 2021, though students in these programs represented a declining share of the whole as enrollment in health programs grew. The next three figures represent a snapshot of the demographics of students enrolled in CCB programs and their area of study in 2021.

In 2021, Latine students made up the majority of those enrolled in CCB programs in all fields of study with sufficient data for analysis. However, Latine students are underrepresented in health professions, specifically nursing (compared to the overall CCB student population at 78 percent, as shown in Figure 2). White CCB students are overrepresented in nursing, at 37 percent compared to 16 percent of total white students enrolled in all CCB programs in 2021. Approximately 56 percent of all enrolled Latine students are pursuing business degrees, and only 27 percent are enrolled in health professions, including nursing. By comparison, 39 percent of white students are pursuing degrees in business and 49 percent in health care professions.

Depending on the occupation, health care can be a highly paid sector, yet the enrollment disparity between Latine students (who are the majority of CCB students) and white students suggests potential enrollment barriers for Latine students in this field. Though white students in nursing are overrepresented relative to their share of total CCB students, it should be noted that nursing bachelor’s programs at community colleges may be crucial to the career progression of Black and Latine nurses. The majority of new registered nurses who are white enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree, while the majority of Black and Latine nurses enter with an associate degree. The bachelor’s degree is increasingly important for nurses’ career progression, so affordable and accessible ways to earn this degree are particularly crucial for nurses of color. Therefore, the still strong Latine enrollment in CCB nursing programs in Texas should be seen as a win, while the relatively low enrollment of Black nurses in these programs represents room to grow.

The average CCB student in Texas is at least 25 years old in all fields of study. However, we do see a strong representation of younger students availing themselves of CCB programs in Texas compared to other states. The largest percentages in each area of study fall in the under-25 age category. In Florida and Washington,[5] the most common age groups are 25 to 29 or 30 to 39, depending on the area of study.

Health professions programs, excluding nursing, have the largest proportion of students under age 25 (42 percent) compared to all other CCB programs. Most of these programs prepare graduates for health care management roles, with some allied health programs—such as dental hygiene—included in this category as well. When we focus on the nursing programs specifically, we see that it has the largest share of CCB students aged 40 and above, which might be explained by increasing credential expectations in nursing, which lead professionals to return to college and pursue an additional degree to improve their earning potential and upward mobility.

Except for computer and information sciences, female students are far more common in CCB programs than their male counterparts in Texas. Health programs and nursing had the largest share of female students, followed by business programs. Yet only one in every five computer and information sciences students is female. Previous research in Washington State showed that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) CCB programs enroll students who are more likely to be male, veterans, not African American or Latine, not parents, and younger than students in business and health care. We recognize that continued enrollment growth in specific programs (e.g., computer and information sciences or nursing) may shift the overall demographics of CCB programs.

While female CCB students outnumber male students in other states, the distribution in Texas is especially skewed. For example, in Washington CCB students overall are 54 percent female, compared to 64 percent in Texas. In Florida, women comprised just over half of CCB business graduates, compared to nearly two-thirds of current students in Texas. Nursing and health care are female-dominated in Texas, as well as in Washington and Florida, as our previous research has shown.

CCB degrees have the potential to offer bachelor’s degrees to students who may want or need to stay close to home while earning a bachelor’s degree, while also addressing local workforce needs. However, rural colleges tend to have smaller enrollment and fewer programs than in urban areas. In 2021, only three community colleges in Texas that were considered rural-serving were enrolling CCB students, with a total of 196 students enrolled in four programs, which was only 8 percent of total CCB enrollment. Half of all CCB students enrolled in rural-serving colleges were in nursing programs, and an additional 23 percent were enrolled in other health professions. The 98 students enrolled in nursing at rural-serving colleges represent 32 percent of all nursing CCB students in Texas in 2021. Rural students enrolled in business programs represent less than 1 percent of all students enrolled in CCB business programs in the state. Note that all three rural-serving institutions offer degrees in applied health professions, which are most often health management programs, and only one rural-serving community college offers a CCB in business. None of the rural-serving schools offer a CCB program in engineering. CCB stakeholders often point out that the programs offered are often developed in response to local labor market needs, particularly in rural areas.

CCB Graduate Figures

We now turn to program graduates. Because the core purpose of CCB programs is to provide graduates with greater earning potential and economic security, we examine the characteristics of CCB graduates and how they fare in the labor market in the initial years after they earn their bachelor’s degrees. Many demographic characteristics of CCB graduates were, unsurprisingly, similar to those of enrolled students, as we show in the following figures. When considered in tandem with post-graduation earnings data, a clearer picture of where and how CCB programs are benefiting Texans begins to emerge.

In total, 843 Texans earned a bachelor’s degree from a community college in 2021, the most recent year of our data. In each year of our data, the majority of students graduating from CCB programs in Texas obtained a degree in business. As with enrollment, much of this figure is thanks to the expansive business program offered at South Texas College. However, the number of graduates in health professions and nursing grew more than business, though computer and information sciences programs did also have a jump in the number of graduates in 2020 and 2021 compared to the two previous years.

Figure 12 reports the median wages for 2018 graduates three years after they graduated (i.e., 2021 or 2022). It is important to note that these graduates may have been working part time or full time and that graduates who are self-employed or working for the military or federal government may not be included. This year represents the most recent data available. While wage outcomes one quarter and one year after graduation were available, we chose to use three years post-graduation in order to observe outcomes after individuals had time to use their new degree in their existing profession or to change careers.

In Texas, substantial wage gaps exist between demographic groups, with students whose race is categorized as “other”[6] experiencing the lowest incomes, closely followed by Latine students. Female graduates earn about $8,000 less than men annually, and the gap is similar for students who received a Pell Grant in college versus those who did not. Unfortunately, there were too few Black graduates with wage information to share; thus, findings for this group were suppressed. Black students and graduates were underrepresented in our data relative to this group’s share of the Texas population.

While problematic gaps exist, graduates of CCB programs do appear to be earning wages that are similar to all Texas baccalaureate graduates. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce defines a “good job” as one that earned at least $38,000 for workers under age 45 in 2020.[7] For comparison, the median wage in 2021 for workers in all occupations in the state of Texas, regardless of educational attainment, was $39,030.[8] Our sample is different, as the students are three years post-graduation, but at a median wage of $44,102, they do not appear to be valued less than all graduates in the labor market. This suggests an important signal of the quality and demand that employers place on CCB graduates. Taking into account that these earnings reflect both full-time and part-time employment, the returns on CCB degrees appear impressive.


CCB programs have been providing opportunities to Texans, especially Latine and low-income Texans, for many years. Since the expansion of CCB authorization across the state, several community colleges have developed new bachelor’s programs, further expanding access to students who might not otherwise pursue this degree. CCB programs appear to be filling a need among female, Latine, and low-income students to earn a bachelor’s degree. When these students are also graduating in high-demand fields, it is a win for students and the state.

These programs are growing in number and enrollment, particularly in high-need professional fields such as nursing and allied health. Not only are CCBs connecting students to opportunity in Texas’s large metropolitan areas, but several rural-serving colleges in the Lone Star State are developing bachelor’s programs tailored to their local labor market and community needs. With average wages on par with the state median for those with bachelor’s degrees, CCB graduates are experiencing relatively strong earnings. As more Texas community colleges consider offering bachelor’s degrees and as more Texans take advantage of these programs, we hope to see the expanded access and strong labor market outcomes continue to thrive and grow.


We are grateful to many for their contributions to this brief. The generous support from Ascendium Education Group made this work possible. We thank our colleagues Sabrina Detlef, Sophie Nguyen, Iris Palmer, and Tiffany Thai for their thoughtful review of our work and Katherine Portnoy and Amanda Dean for communications planning and support. We thank Ginger Gossman, Jessica Acton, and Randy Gesn at TXHECB. Finally, we appreciate the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for sharing the data used in this analysis with our team, and we hope these results are useful as community college bachelor’s programs continue to grow in Texas.


[1] We use the rural-serving institution index developed by the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges to identify rural-serving Texas community colleges.

[2] We use Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) codes to signify area of study.

[3] For 2018, our data include graduates from Brazosport, Midland, South Texas, and Tyler Junior College. For 2020, our data include graduates from Brazosport, Midland, South Texas, Tyler Junior College, Austin, Grayson, and Laredo College. Enrollment data from 2021 include students at Brazosport, Midland, South Texas, Tyler Junior, Austin, Grayson, and Galveston College.

[4] Texas Demographic Characteristics and Trends and Higher Education (San Antonio, TX: Texas Demographic Center, 2021). See slide 33 for a breakdown of education attainment level by race/ethnicity in Texas.

[5] Florida and Washington analyses are forthcoming from New America in spring 2024.

[6] This group includes Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial graduates, as well as those whose race and ethnicity was unknown.

[7] For the complete definition of a good job, see pages 29 to 30 in Carnevale, Mabel, Campbell, and Booth, What Works: Ten Education, Training, and Work-Based Pathway Changes that Lead to Good Jobs (Washington, DC: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 2023).

[8] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,” downloadable XLS file.