Making the Case for Community College Baccalaureates

What Supply and Demand Analysis Reveals in Two Midwest States
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Dec. 5, 2022


Communities across the United States are welcoming graduates who complete their baccalaureate degrees at their local community colleges. Programs are spreading, preparing graduates for well-paying jobs in business, health care, education, computer science, and other technical fields. With half the states on board, it is only a matter of time before more states authorize their community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees. Seeing how CCB graduates live, work, and give back to their communities may inspire others to invest in bachelor’s degrees that promote more inclusive economic prosperity for college graduates.

Many factors influence the decisions state and institutional leaders make to adopt CCB degrees. One of those factors is the need for higher education systems, including universities and community colleges, to meet the changing needs of students. Offering high value credentials that lead to economic security and career mobility is critical to advancing equitable outcomes for populations underserved at the bachelor’s level. Aligned with this commitment is recognizing where gaps in collegiate programming leave good jobs unfilled and do not meet critical workforce needs. Through close working relationships with employers, community colleges are as well positioned as any type of higher education institution to meet workforce needs and strengthen communities.

This brief discusses the methods and results of a supply and demand analysis we conducted in two Midwest states to inform future decisions on CCB degrees. Ohio adopted CCB-authorizing legislation in 2018 and began approving programs later that year. CCB degrees continue to come online, with nine new programs approved in 2022 alone. By contrast, Illinois has long debated but not yet adopted state law to authorize CCB degrees. However, advocates for CCB degrees are advancing policy and program proposals in Illinois, which was the impetus for us to study unmet workforce needs in the state that might call for additional baccalaureate programs.

Why Baccalaureate Degrees Matter

The contribution of baccalaureate degrees to advancing personal, economic, and social well-being is firmly established, though one would hardly know it listening to the current debate about whether college degrees are worth the money. The Biden administration’s loan forgiveness plan has awakened critics who claim federal funding to help students relieve college debt is unfair to people who chose not to attend college and who are therefore unable to reap this financial benefit. Some critics of the president’s agenda go even further, raising questions about whether college degrees are needed to secure good jobs. Countering this perspective, Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, argues these views are ill-informed and wrong-headed, noting the strong relationship between baccalaureate degrees and lifetime earnings. Research by Walter McMahon, professor of economics at the University of Illinois, concurs with Carnevale’s findings in demonstrating solid relationships between postsecondary attainment and quality of life.[1] Both admit that good jobs can be found without a college degree, but they join a chorus of other scholars in noting college degrees are highly correlated with lifetime earnings. Moreover, the long history and institutionalized meaning of the baccalaureate degree carries weight that positions recipients of this degree for social mobility.[2]

Unfortunately, what sometimes gets lost in arguments about the value of college degrees is the deep inequities in postsecondary attainment for Black and brown, low-income, older, and other marginalized student populations. Though college enrollment has increased, college degree attainment continues to lag for these groups. For example, while over 47 percent of white adults have earned an associate degree or higher degree, only about 31 percent of Black adults have earned any form of college degree. Putting these statistics into perspective, Andrew Nichols and J. Oliver Schak claimed the “current degree attainment levels of Black Americans are lower than the attainment levels of white adults in 1990—over a quarter of a century ago.”

A recent survey of adults by the Federal Reserve System shows their keen awareness of different outcomes for graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to graduates without these credentials. Nearly all adults with at least a bachelor’s degree reported “doing okay” or “living comfortably,” compared to about three-quarters of adults with some college but no degree. Over 60 percent of adults with an associate degree reported if they could do college over they would complete more education.

No single solution is likely to resolve such serious inequities in higher education, but progress can be made if innovations are given a chance. Community colleges that are committed to access in multiple forms—demographic, academic, financial, and geographic—are a resource that many states and higher education systems have not yet considered for baccalaureate degree conferral. And yet, early evidence is promising on the potential for CCB degrees to help close gaps in baccalaureate attainment between underrepresented and non-underrepresented groups. Recent studies of CCB graduates in Florida and Washington show high graduation and employment rates for diverse populations. Moreover, research on CCBs in Washington suggests employment and earnings outcomes tend to be higher in the first year after graduation for CCB students than university students in similar programs of study, with comparable outcomes for the two groups three years post-graduation. These results also help to address the criticism that CCB degrees are unlikely to confer similar labor market benefits to community college graduates as university graduates.[3]

One reason CCB degrees show positive outcomes may be their focus on workforce preparation in occupations with high demand and high wage potential. CCBs explicitly seek to transform career technical education (CTE) designed to terminate in non-degree program certificates and associate degrees into baccalaureate pathways. The CCB provides a path to the baccalaureate in programs of study that have not prioritized transfer in the past. To resolve inequities, CCB programs are a solution to complement and bolster transfer and improve postsecondary attainment nationwide.

Supply and Demand Analysis Methods

Making the case for CCB degrees can be challenging because of a dearth of current, actionable labor market and college enrollment and completion data. Data reflective of regions within states is even more difficult to ascertain. Time-tested methods to estimate labor shortages through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and American Community Survey (ACS) provide information but lag behind the current workforce, yielding incomplete job vacancy projections.

To address this issue, we used data from Lightcast, formerly known as Emsi Burning Glass, which offers comprehensive labor market data using software tools enabling users to construct customized reports. While studies using these data are not unusual, we were not able to find published work using labor market data analytics to conduct CCB case-making.[4] Our supply and demand methods using Lightcast produce a set of comprehensive results for states and regions within states at the community college and university levels.

The Lightcast data analytics package provides detailed job vacancy and online resume data, including social media records for millions of individuals across the country, which facilitates access to institutional data from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data analytics packages of this sort have the advantage of aggregating and supplying large amounts of data from a wide variety of sources, but they can be expensive and require trained users in order to capitalize on the software tools. To address this concern, we partnered with two states, Ohio and Illinois, to develop supply and demand analysis methods that could be replicated by community colleges within these states. We relied on Lightcast and other publicly available data to estimate unmet workforce needs in two high demand, high wage occupations: respiratory therapy and information security analyst.

The two occupations selected for this study (see Table 1) are not new to CCB programs in the U.S. Health care and information technology programs comprise a substantial share of the approximately 580 CCB programs approved across the country. Most of these baccalaureate programs have been implemented in the last five years, with Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees being common for both programs.

According to the BLS, respiratory therapy programs offer strong employment and wages, with a much faster growth rate than occupations generally in the U.S. A median wage of $61,830 per year ($29.73 per hour) is associated with respiratory therapy jobs. Professional bodies have advocated for some time that the baccalaureate degree should be the primary entry credential to respiratory therapy, also important to situating new baccalaureate degrees at community colleges.[5] In 1998, the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) issued a position statement expressing preference for the baccalaureate degree to address the increasing volume and complexity of patient care. The AARC could not have known about COVID-19 and the dire effects of the pandemic on public health, but that has heightened pressure on higher education to produce more respiratory therapists. With the majority of respiratory therapy programs in the country located at community colleges, the need to grow upper-division education to meet increased demand for baccalaureate degrees is obvious.

BLS reports that information security analyst occupations will grow at a much faster pace than other occupations generally, with a high median wage of $102,600 per year ($49.33 per hour). According to CyberSeek, the 12-month period ending in September 2022 saw over 750,000 openings in cybersecurity positions or jobs requiring cybersecurity skills akin to those we identified as core curriculum in information security analyst programs of study. Technical skills associated with these jobs are also continuing to increase and diversify, with new specializations emerging at a rapid pace. Similar to respiratory therapy, workforce need outstrips the talent pipeline nationwide, with industry leaders pointing to the dire consequences of not addressing labor market needs.

With respect to our supply and demand analysis method, we rely primarily on quantitative data. However, we understand the benefit of gathering qualitative perspectives. We therefore used a mixed-methods approach to case-making by conducting interviews and focus groups with state and institutional personnel to better understand their perspectives on CCB degrees. Our questions focused on perceived merits of CCB degrees relative to baccalaureate degrees conferred by universities, strategic plans for higher education and workforce development to address unmet workforce needs, the functionality of transfer for postsecondary CTE programs, and anticipated requirements for new baccalaureate program approval should CCB programs be adopted.[6] (See Appendix A for details on our qualitative data collection methods pertaining to CCB degree authorization and program approval.)

Key elements of our supply and demand analysis include:

Selection of occupations and programs of study: Consultation with higher education leaders at the state and college levels led to the selection of respiratory therapy in Ohio and information security analyst in Illinois. Once these occupations were selected, we determined the appropriate Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code for each: 29-1126 for respiratory therapy and 51-1212 for information security analyst. We then cross-walked the CIP codes with the comparable six-digit Classification of Instructional (CIP) code for each program, 51.0908 for respiratory therapy and 11.1003 for information security analyst. Selecting the related occupational codes in labor market data and program codes in higher education data is needed to ascertain relationships between education (supply) and employment (demand) for this analysis.

Measures of supply: We used Lightcast reports to access IPEDS data for the relevant programs offered by community colleges that confer associate degrees and universities that confer baccalaureate degrees.[7] We then used IPEDS to document the number of graduates with associate and bachelor’s degrees in the two selected programs of study over an 11-year period, from 2010 to 2020.

Measures of demand: We used Lightcast data analytics reports to present three aspects of occupational demand at the state and regional levels.[8]

  • BLS occupational employment projections data for the 2015 to 2030 period to obtain projected annual job vacancies, including base year employment, projected year employment, change in employment, median hourly earnings, and projected annual vacancies. These BLS projections data lag current labor markets and are based solely on new jobs or replacements due to deaths, retirements, or other permanent separations from the occupation.
  • Lightcast job postings (which we refer to vacancies) reports for June 2021 to May 2022 to obtain the total number of unduplicated job vacancies for each occupation.[9]
  • Lightcast job postings data for June 2021 to May 2022 identify educational requirements for job openings when employers include them in online job postings. We use the percentage of postings requesting a baccalaureate or higher degree to adjust our BLS vacancy and job postings values to reflect demand for employees with a baccalaureate degree.

Supply and demand within regions of the state: Both Ohio and Illinois expressed strong interest in exploring within-state regions to assess supply and demand relative to the selected programs, which led us to present the Lightcast results at both the state and regional levels. We used official economic development regions in each state to conduct this analysis.[10]

Finally, our supply and demand analysis methods also include estimating graduate migration into and out of a state to account for the fact that not all graduates who attain a degree from an institution within a state stay in that state to work. Also, out-of-state graduates migrate into a state to work, and these numbers need to be estimated to properly project supply and demand. We used Lightcast profile data to investigate the movement of graduates in and out of state for the two selected occupations, and we used BLS degree data investigate the result of migration on the number of new graduates available to fill vacancies within a state and region. Because these results did not have a material effect on our conclusions, we have not included them here, but they are available upon request.

Supply and Demand for Respiratory Therapy in Ohio

Ohio adopted CCB legislation in 2018 and began approving CCB degree programs later that year. All public community or technical colleges in the state are eligible to apply to the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) for approval to implement Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree programs, and the state added conferral authority to community and technical colleges for Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees in 2021. To date, 11 of 23 community and technical colleges have secured approval from ODHE to implement one or more CCB degrees, including six BSN programs in 2022. (See Appendix B for a current listing of all 21 approved CCB degrees by college, program name, and degree type.)

Ohio’s CCB approval process requires supply and demand analysis that specifically addresses the need for a bachelor’s degree relative to an associate degree using the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation In-Demand Jobs List ( and regional or local workforce board data. The state suggests the use of Lightcast and BLS data to supplement the program approval process. Employer input is also required to establish unmet workforce need in the form of oral and written statements, including “letters of support from specific business/industry partners indicating their commitment to train students in an in-demand field and to employ students upon their successful completion of the program.”

Looking at degree production in respiratory therapy using IPEDS over the 11-year period of 2010 to 2020, we found 10 university campuses (main and branch) conferred bachelor’s degrees, with three four-year branch campuses conferring a small number of associate degrees. Twelve community and technical colleges conferred associate degrees during this time, and none of these colleges conferred baccalaureate degrees. These institutions are spread across all regions of the state, with more concentration in denser populated regions in the Northeast and Southwest.

Figure 1 shows the number of respiratory therapy associate and baccalaureate degree graduates each year from 2010 to 2020. Community college respiratory therapy programs offer Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees preparing graduates for immediate entry into employment, although some transfer agreements do exist to baccalaureate respiratory therapy programs, according to institutional websites.

Access to bachelor’s degrees is important for respiratory therapy because the AARC has endorsed the baccalaureate as the preferred credential for entry. It is possible the steady growth in baccalaureate degrees from 2010 to 2019 is associated with this preference, although associate degrees continued to outnumber bachelor’s degrees throughout the entire period. We speculate the precipitous decline in bachelor’s graduates in 2020 is linked to the pandemic. With COVID-19 waning, we may see an increase in demand at the baccalaureate level, as respiratory therapists practicing with associate degrees may seek promotions and wage increases in the coming years.

Figure 2 shows the supply of baccalaureate graduates in respiratory therapy is considerably smaller than BLS-derived job vacancies, indicating unmet demand for these workers. The 125 bachelor’s graduates in 2020 fell well short of 212 job vacancies, suggesting another 87 bachelor’s graduates would be needed to fill this gap.

In addition to BLS, we used Lightcast job postings data to assess unmet workforce need for respiratory therapists. This analysis yielded 1,431 unduplicated vacancies at the baccalaureate level, a much higher number of vacancies than derived from BLS. These Lightcast data show over 13 times more unduplicated vacancies for respiratory therapy bachelor’s graduates than the number of baccalaureate respiratory therapy graduates.

Because job vacancies can be filled by incumbent workers and job-seekers other than recent college graduates, our supply and demand method uses Lightcast job profiles to identify individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees. In 2020, there were 733 respiratory therapy profiles with baccalaureate or higher degrees, including individuals working in respiratory therapy as well as those seeking employment in the occupation. Taking the most conservative approach and assuming all 733 individuals were seeking respiratory therapy jobs, plus the total of 312 bachelor’s graduates, we would still see a gap, with nearly 400 job vacancies for respiratory therapists with bachelor’s degrees in Ohio.

Figures 3 and 4 show regional supply and demand for respiratory therapists, respectively, with the largest demand in the Northeast region of the state, which includes Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron. This region also produces the most respiratory therapy baccalaureate graduates (46) and Lightcast worker profiles (274), detailed in Table 2 below, but this supply is insufficient to meet workforce demand. In fact, adding together all graduates in the entire state does not approach the large number of vacancies in the Northeast region.

Also noteworthy is the uneven distribution of supply and demand for respiratory therapists across the state, with demand outstripping supply in most but not all regions. Understanding where graduates and incumbent workers reside relative to job vacancies is an important factor in considering higher education solutions to addressing unmet workforce needs.

With respect to CCB degrees as one potential solution to labor shortfall, three community colleges graduate respiratory therapists in the Northeast region, where the greatest need exists. In the three-year period from 2018 to 2022, these colleges graduated from 33 to 46 associate graduates annually, potentially supplying another group of therapists who could be trained at the baccalaureate level to help fill vacancies.

Program outcomes for Ohio respiratory therapy at both the community college and university levels are very strong, according to data reported by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Results on retention, graduation, licensure test scores, job placement, employer satisfaction, and student satisfaction are all considerably above national thresholds, suggesting these programs are preparing well-qualified graduates for the workforce.

Supply and Demand for Information Security Analysts in Illinois

Unlike Ohio, the Illinois General Assembly has not authorized CCB degree programs to date. By including Illinois, we acquired a different state context for testing our supply and demand analysis method. In this state, we found that workers with knowledge and skills in cybersecurity are in high demand, and we sought to paint a picture of supply and demand for this occupation.

First, we used IPEDS to identify degree production for information security analyst at the associate and bachelor’s levels for 2010 to 2020. Nine universities conferred bachelor’s degrees and eight community colleges conferred associate of applied science (AAS) degrees during this 11-year period. Figure 5 shows that the total number of graduates grew 3.5-fold, from 68 in 2010 to 236 graduates in 2020. The number of AAS degrees grew more than five times, from 15 in 2010 to 80 in 2020, with entry into employment immediately after graduation the primary outcome for these graduates. And similar to our findings for respiratory therapy in Ohio, at no time did the total number of graduates equate or even come close to the BLS-derived annual vacancies, let alone the much higher estimate of job vacancies using Lightcast.

Results for information security analysts, depicted in Figure 6, show strong demand for employment and insufficient baccalaureate degree supply. The projected 348 BLS-derived job vacancies requiring a baccalaureate degree is more than twice the estimated annual graduate supply. Moreover, the Lightcast data show a much higher number of unduplicated job vacancies requiring a baccalaureate degree, 6,171, which is nearly 40 times the total number of baccalaureate graduates.

Also using Lightcast, we found 5,396 worker profiles for information security analyst with a baccalaureate degree, indicating another group of potential talent to fill positions, although we recognize a proportion of these individuals are already working in the occupation. Again, these results, using either BLS or Lightcast, show a sizeable gap between supply and demand in an occupation deemed important to the future of the Illinois economy.

Table 3 shows regional supply and demand for workers, using the BLS and Lightcast unduplicated vacancies for information security analyst graduates for each of the state’s 10 regions. We find demand for workers is greatest in the Northeast region, which includes the Chicago metropolitan area, with strong demand in the North Central region, which includes Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. Demand does not exceed supply based on BLS but does exceed demand according to Lightcast. In the case of the Northeast region, demand outstrips supply by a substantial amount using either BLS or Lightcast, suggesting an even stronger case for worker preparation. In fact, adding together all information security analyst graduates in the state would not meet the large number of vacancies in the Northeast region.

Similar to our findings for respiratory therapy in Ohio, we found a mismatch in geographic distribution of associate and bachelor’s graduates in information system analyst programs relative to economic development regions, as shown in Figures 7 and 8. For example, two community colleges in two economic development regions (Northeast and Southern) produced nearly three-fourths of all associate graduates in the state in 2020. Bachelor’s graduates are clustered in three regions: Central, North Central, and, especially, Northeast. Three regions show both high supply and high demand for information security workers, but other regions with few graduates show high demand, including the Northwest and Southwest regions of the state. These supply and demand results point to the importance of estimating supply and demand at the regional level, where gaps in graduate supply can be addressed by using both community college and university program assets.

Focus groups conducted with Illinois community college faculty[11] suggested keen interest in baccalaureate degree conferral in information technology and computer science occupations broadly, including information security analyst. Faculty members teaching in these programs had general knowledge of the CCB degree, and they were eager to learn about how similar programs were developed across the country. Some of the faculty members said students and graduates were excited about the possibility of pursuing a baccalaureate from the community college where they had obtained or were pursuing their associate degree. They also described strong interest from employers, who shared challenges with securing qualified cybersecurity workers. They said some employers offered to help design programs and to hire graduates.

Discussion and Next Steps

Decisions to start and expand college degree programs require evidence of unmet workforce need. Our method uses supply and demand data from BLS as well as Lightcast to identify lagging and current indicators of job vacancies. Lightcast adds information from social media on current and historical employment and credentials for specific occupations, complemented by data from IPEDS on associate and baccalaureate degree completion. We supplement these data with information on program quality, credential requirements, and transfer agreements. Finally, we integrate qualitative data to corroborate and deepen findings pertaining to potential baccalaureate degree conferral. Table 4 lists steps undertaken to carry out our analysis.

This supply and demand method recognizes that no single measure of unmet workforce need is sufficient to give a complete picture. However, using multiple measures can yield conflicting results, as was evident in our study. Recognizing the strengths and limitations of these data sources is helpful to interpreting our results. BLS data are limited to net job growth due to change in the total number of workers, plus replacements due to workers permanently leaving an occupation. This conservative estimate is also based on historical data, yielding an outdated picture of the labor market. By contrast, Lightcast data offer the advantage of a just-in-time picture of employment but are prone to duplication of job vacancies, which can inflate results.

Because we are unable to independently validate either the BLS or Lightcast data used in our study, we recognize strengths and limitations of both in informing decisions about baccalaureate degree conferral. We contend that our projected BLS job vacancy results provide a “floor” for total demand, whereas Lightcast job postings represent a possible “ceiling” on total demand, since IT and health care jobs tend to be advertised online. To this point, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce reported that “recruitment methods, such as word of mouth and referrals, may still be dominant in select industries like construction and food services, which would explain their low online profile and the underrepresentation of online job ads relative to actual job openings. Conversely, the education, real estate, and manufacturing sectors have an outsized online presence relative to employment.” Understanding how employers post job vacancies merits consideration in weighing the value of BLS and Lightcast data to estimate supply and demand relative to new baccalaureate degree implementation.

We plan to further develop supply and demand analysis methods, including refining our use of BLS and the Lightcast data relative to IPEDS enrollments and graduates with associate and bachelor’s degrees. We will refine our regional supply and demand methods within states, including more fully developing our college student migration estimates to reveal how mobility within states impacts graduate supply relative to unmet demand.

Our plans include supplementing these supply and demand data with state and institutional data using an equity lens to understand how student populations historically marginalized from baccalaureate education may be better served by various college degree options, including CCB degrees. We will create new tools to illuminate how college completions could change for underserved student populations when the mix of college degrees includes CCB degrees in high-demand, high-wage occupations. We will compare program costs for students attending university baccalaureate programs to potential CCB programs to evaluate what these opportunities may mean for advancing affordability and equity in baccalaureate attainment within states.

We contend supply and demand data should be integral to case-making for any new baccalaureate degree, including the CCB degree. Our study estimates unmet workforce need for respiratory therapy in Ohio and information security analyst in Illinois, with future efforts focusing on expanding data sources and refining analytical methods. Ultimately, our goal is to develop an evidence-based methodology that states and institutions can use to ascertain the need for CCB degrees that have the potential to strengthen regional economies by graduating students who secure well-paying jobs and fulfilling careers in their local communities.


CCBs are important tools for building inclusive economies across the United States. To create more pathways for prospective students, and make the case for needed programs, we recommend the following:

  • States should use supply and demand information to analyze occupations with strong demand, limited baccalaureate degree supply, and associate degree programs that could prepare students for entry into baccalaureate programs in the community college setting.
  • States with existing CCB approval procedures should consider supplementing their program approval processes with Lightcast job opening and worker profile information. These data provide more current information about employer degree and skill requirements than BLS annual vacancy projections.
  • Community colleges should use supply and demand analysis to explore potential baccalaureate programs that have strong demand from regional employers. These methods can also help colleges identify additional degree and credentialing needs in an industry sector.

Appendix and Notes

Click below to access the full appendices and notes.


We are grateful to New America for spotlighting the community college baccalaureate (CCB) as an important innovation in higher education in the United States. We thank the Center on Education & Labor at New America (CELNA), Ascendium Education Group, and the Joyce Foundation for supporting this work, and we offer special thanks to CELNA’s Ivy Love and Iris Palmer for reviewing an early draft and creating graphics for the paper. We also appreciate feedback to improve the paper from Michelle Van Noy, director of the Education and Employment Research Center at Rutgers University, and Angela Kersenbrock, president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. Finally, none of this work would have been possible without the keen support we received from state and institutional leaders in Illinois and Ohio, who partnered with us to carry out this research.