When Higher Education Doesn’t Deliver on Its Promise

Career College Central Summary:

  • New federal data that track college graduates into the job market tells a sobering story.
  • The market for medical-assistant education is deeply troubling.
  • Many people who graduate from such programs struggle to find work.
  • Those who do find work often make little money — too little to repay their debts from the program.
  • Despite the happy poster images, the market for medical-assistant education is actually an allegory for the problems in the parts of higher education that tend to attract low-income and middle-class students: little regulation and uneven — often mediocre — results.
  • The same problems afflict many community colleges, lower-tier four-year colleges and training programs in fields like office management and culinary arts.
  • According to the Department of Labor, the median annual salary for medical assistants in 2011 was $29,100.
  • Yet most recent graduates of medical-assistant training programs earn much less, which suggests the programs are not reliable routes to good jobs as assistants.
  • Among the 100,000 students who earned a medical-assistant certificate in 2008 or 2009, roughly 94 percent attended a program where graduates typically earned less than $20,000 in 2011, the data show.
  • More than 50 percent attended a program where typical graduates earned less than someone working full time at the federal minimum wage would — $15,080. That can only mean many were not working full-time in any job.
  • A small number of public community colleges have successful medical-assistant programs, minting graduates who make $25,000 per year or more.
  • But the industry is dominated by for-profit colleges, which produce more than nine out of 10 medical assistant certificates nationwide.
  • For-profit programs are typically expensive and financed primarily with federally backed grants and student loans.

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