Luzerne County Community College graduates meet workforce need

Luzerne County Community College graduates meet workforce need

The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) recently celebrated the 7,530 students who graduated from one of the state's 15 community colleges in May. Community college graduates, including those who earned their credentials from Luzerne County Community College (LCCC) continue to fill workforce needs in their communities.

Statewide, community college graduates received degrees in high priority occupation areas including the health sciences, early childhood education, teacher training, the trades, manufacturing and information technology/computer science.*

"At Luzerne County Community College, we strive to ensure our graduates are well prepared to succeed in their careers," said LCCC President Thomas P. Leary. "As a student-centered institution, we are committed to ensuring our students receive the best education possible that can help them meet the needs of the local workforce. We are proud to help our graduates get the necessary training to fill some of the high priority occupations that are in need of qualified, trained people."

Based on current census and population data, it is estimated Pennsylvania's projected skilled worker shortage could reach 820,000 in the coming years. To meet the state's workforce needs and support continued economic growth, more workers will be required with appropriate credentials and training tailored to regional employer needs ? an area in which community colleges excel.

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania conducted a survey of 70 of its hospitals in November of 2023 and found that one-third of registered nurse positions were vacant. The need is in sharp contrast to levels before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, 13 percent of community college graduates received nursing degrees, adding more than 1,000 nurses to the workforce.

Health sciences led the list of degrees granted this May at community colleges in the state with graduates earning credentials to serve as RNs, medical assistants, radiographers, dental hygienists, medical coders and billers, sonographers, among many others.

At LCCC's recent 25th annual Dental Health Alumni Day, graduates of the dental hygiene program spoke of how the College helped them prepare for their futures in the medical industry.

"Looking back on my career, I've enjoyed helping people learn more about dental hygiene and taking better care of their mouths," said Nancy Meade, who graduated from LCCC's program in 1981. "I received an excellent education at LCCC, which prepared me for my career that has lasted for over 40 years in this area."

Locally, there is a growing need to fill vacancies in the medical field. Information from the Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Investment Board Inc. lists physician assistants, physical therapist assistants, and respiratory therapists as careers that will continue to see growth into 2030. Students can attend LCCC and pursue a degree in respiratory therapy, nursing, and other degrees within the medical field.

Pennsylvania is also facing a major shortage of educators across the Commonwealth. A decade ago, roughly 20,000 teacher certifications were issued each year, while in 2021 only about 6,000 were issued. This includes Pre-K and early childcare programs. A March 2022 Start Strong PA survey found that there are nearly 32,500 children on waiting lists with 91% of respondents citing staffing shortages as the challenge to serve more children.

To help with the teacher shortage, LCCC offers an early childhood education degree, education degree and a paraeducator diploma for those wanting a career in education. Additionally, the College is partnering with the Luzerne County Head Start program to provide learning opportunities for both groups of students. Through LCCC's new Marcella Nagorski-Waldow Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Head Start students and LCCC students get the chance to learn together.

Community colleges continue to have a positive impact on that workforce. May's graduations across the 15 colleges included 224 students who received degrees or certificates in childcare, pre K-4 early education, early childhood education, and early childhood intervention.

Pennsylvania's 15 community colleges have over 245,000 students enrolled on their 80 campuses, providing real savings to students and families as they pursue additional credentials. On average, students save $30,000 on their education by starting at, or selecting, a community college for their degree or certificate. Those same 15 colleges partner with 2,170 employers for workforce training ensuring that students have the most up-to-date knowledge, and providing pathways to careers for them as well.

Community colleges are the state's largest provider of public postsecondary education and workforce training and offer the lowest public postsecondary tuition in Pennsylvania. Additionally, 75 percent (75%) of the community colleges' programs align with High Priority Occupations in fields such as healthcare, manufacturing and public safety. They award over 4,000 healthcare credentials annually on average, including 75 percent of all associate degrees in nursing in the state. It is estimated that about 55 percent of undergraduate students who are enrolled in a Pennsylvania college are enrolled at one of the 15 community colleges in the state.