Healthcare Jobs Booming but Expensive Education May Not Be Needed


By John A. Lahtinen
Nursing students at Goodwin College in East Hartford.
The healthcare industry will generate nearly six million jobs over the next eight years, according to a recent Georgetown University study – jobs in the nursing profession alone are expected to jump a whopping 26 percent.
Because of this, many job seekers are returning to school in droves in order to get a leg up on the competition. Due to factors that include convenience, flexibility and cost, nursing programs at all levels are filling up at a steady rate.
Karen Tianbek works for the Central Connecticut Area Health Education Center, which addresses the distribution of health care providers in medically underserved areas. As its careers and education initiatives supervisor, she focuses on healthcare career options.
“There are so many options [in healthcare education] where you don’t need the big, expensive college education,” she said. “It’s never a bad thing to advance your education but there are a lot of options.”
There are many levels of training in healthcare, and the various credentials mean different things in the field. It is important to understand those differences.
For example, a Certified Nurse’s Aide is an entry-level position requiring comparatively little training and typically results in a lower-level position at a long-term care facility or nursing home. On average, CANs can expect to earn $20,000-$30,000 a year initially.
Nurse’s Aide programs are relatively inexpensive programs offered by both for profit and nonprofit entities which generally cost the same depending on whether the program is eligible for federal funding or if expenses are paid out-of-pocket by the students.
Tunxis Community College in Farmington offers a 100-hour Certified Nurse Aide program held over a 12-week period. The regular CNA program is $900 plus textbooks and a $35 application fee. If a student chooses a Saturday clinical, it is $50 extra. The accelerated program is $975 plus textbooks and application fee.
Francheska Marrero finished the CNA program at Tunxis last spring and is now enrolled in the Patient Care Technician Program.
Marrero, who received funding from a federal program called the Workforce Investment Act, said whether you choose a public or a private path, success comes down to hard work. “My advise to everyone who wants to make nursing assistant a career is to make sure you really have the dedication needed to succeed, and feel within yourself that you really want to make this choice.”
“All the Connecticut community colleges offer similar benefits and services,” said David C. England, dean of institutional effectiveness and outreach. “We are close to home, affordable, student-centered, and offer a quality education.”
England said interest in a community college program can be very enticing, particularly during these tough economic times.
“Certainly with, say, the Ivy League schools, that is certainly true. With the economic crisis, though, many students who might have aspired to an expensive or ‘big name college are choosing to start at a community college and transfer as juniors. They can save up to $20,000-40,000 by doing so.”
Tianbek said the mistake some students make is committing to expensive private programs before knowing what kind of career they want in healthcare. It’s an error that could leave them on the hook for thousands of dollars in tuition loans without the right job to pay for them. “If they know they want to be healthcare, but not where, they should start with the public options. A lot of people get in there and decide it’s not for them, she said. “There are low-cost options like certification programs … that are quicker and cheaper.”
Recently, the Metro Hartford Alliance for Careers in Healthcare selected Tunxis to deliver accelerated Certified Nurse Aide training as part of a pilot initiative that responds to the increased demand for nurse aides with enhanced skill sets.
The program, which covers tuition, books and program materials for those students who qualify, includes three weeks of job readiness training, an accelerated technical training program at Tunxis, and four weeks of paid work experience.
Goodwin College in East Hartford is a private nonprofit school offering medical assisting and nursing programs, plus a more generalized health science degree. Enrollment at Goodwin has doubled over the past five years and 95 percent of students complete their degrees there.
While tuition at Goodwin runs about $20,000 per year, Mark Scheinberg, Goodwin’s president, says there are still many great options available for those who need help affording college.
“There is no question that many healthcare fields are pushing for advanced degrees wherever possible,” Scheinberg said. “Degree creep will absolutely create a barrier to entry to certain individuals, but as long as Pell and other forms of aid are available, people of all backgrounds will be able to find some option for higher education.”