Reporting on the connections between education and work

A Texas-sized shortage of healthcare workers

Work Shift talks with Eric Bing, chancellor of the College of Health Care Professions in Texas, about how institutions and policymakers can help meet the huge need for healthcare workers.
Photo by Tomasz Szymanski via Shutterstock

Colleges are unable to produce enough graduates for open healthcare jobs in Texas, as the state struggles with a severe hospital staffing crisis. Work Shift recently spoke with Eric Bing, chancellor and CEO of the College of Health Care Professions, to get a sense of what’s driving the demand and how to make a dent in the industry’s labor shortages.

The Texas-based CHCP offers healthcare degrees and certificates in on-campus, online, and blended programs. The for-profit college focuses on offering its students clear and short pathways to credentials that pay off in the job market, with flipped classrooms and wraparound student supports.

Below is a lightly edited version of our exchange over email.

Where are you seeing the most unmet need for healthcare jobs?

A: The current demand for allied health jobs in Texas is unprecedented. The state is experiencing major shortages, and that’s impacting the prompt access to and quality of people’s healthcare, which in turn are impacting their quality of life. The nursing shortage remains a big challenge, but we are also seeing huge shortages of medical assistants, surgical technicians, radiology technicians, and pharmacy technicians

This is, in part, because postsecondary education has not kept pace with the country’s growing need for healthcare professionals. Baby Boomers are aging and retiring, creating greater demand for healthcare while also shrinking the pool of available talent. Meanwhile, the pandemic has caused major spikes in need as well as historic levels of burnout among healthcare workers. With major capacity restraints on faculty—who are in demand in the field—and new healthcare program development, many colleges are unable to produce enough new healthcare professionals. It also takes time to build quality programs.

That’s where we find ourselves now: trying to make up the lost ground while demand continues to explode.

Is student demand generally fitting the same patterns?

A: Not completely. With allied healthcare education, we are working with adult learners and their busy, complicated lives. These aspiring professionals often know about nursing but are largely unaware of other in-demand, exciting career paths in allied health. They may have never heard of roles such as radiologic or cardiovascular technicians, for example. They simply do not know these careers exist. We engage in a lot of education around helping people understand that there are all sorts of healthcare roles out there that they may be interested in. This kind of awareness building is a key part of making sure student and employer demands start to align better. 

One interesting factor that is helping close this gap is the growing number of learners who are interested in pursuing postsecondary education outside of the traditional bachelor’s degree. A lot more people are looking into earning certifications and other short-term credentials, and they are finding that allied health programs are a good fit. 

What are concrete steps to encourage stackability and transfer-credit acceptance for entry-level healthcare credentials in higher ed?

A: From a regulation and accreditation standpoint, we need a major push at the state and federal levels to help institutions—that are maybe a little stuck in their traditional ways—to explore and embrace these options. We need ways to incentivize this shift. 

Certifications should be built with stackability in mind. And degrees should be designed with convenient “earn and learn” on- and off-ramps that allow learners to move toward a certification, an associate’s degree, and/or a bachelor’s degree at their own pace. Too often, postsecondary education is an all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn’t need to be this way, and that traditional all-or-nothing model especially does not work for many adult learners.

Right now, colleges and universities are very worried about the steep declines in enrollment they are facing. Approaches like stackable credentials can widen the pipeline of prospective students to include the 70 million aspiring adult learners who believe they don’t have enough time or money to go to school. Institutions can bring in these amazing and qualified students who just don’t fit in a traditional higher education setting. That could be a game-changer for growing enrollment and attaining higher graduation rates.

At the same time, more and more employers are looking to invest in their workers and help them achieve the next level of career growth. Stackable credentials are a great way for employers to provide crucial upskilling opportunities that help workers advance in their careers, address employment shortages, and close skills gaps. Encouraging wider acceptance of stackability—and transfer credit—starts with getting institutions, employers, and regulators to better understand the immense value of offering these kinds of flexible but structured educational pathways.

The good news is it is a win-win for all sides.

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