FRANKFORT, Ky. — A new report from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) shows that jobs in health care are expected to jump 12% over the next decade, expanding at nearly twice the average rate for all other jobs across the state.
Meanwhile, Kentucky colleges and universities are on track to meet the demand for health care degrees and other credentials by 2024 following years of steady gains.
The analysis, released Tuesday, projects that Kentucky will create more than 23,000 new jobs in health care by 2029, increasing the already high demand for degrees and other postsecondary credentials in the field.
More than 195,000 employees currently work in the Kentucky health care industry, and future job demand will continue in many occupational groups including clinical practice, mental and social health, and direct patient care — especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CPE President Aaron Thompson said the report confirms that higher education will play an ever more critical role in the state’s economic success and that Kentucky must prepare now for the opportunities ahead. He also praised campuses for their impressive gains in credential production.
“A strong health care system is foundational to our businesses, our communities and our quality of life,” he said. “And it serves a dual function amid the pandemic. While the industry is supporting our workforce and creating new jobs, it is also developing new treatments and models of care for our people. That makes investment in this space all the more important, especially at the postsecondary level.”
CPE partnered with the labor market analytics firm, Emsi, to produce the report. Analysts studied economic trends to determine if the number of graduates in health care is keeping pace with the Kentucky market.
Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in health care have continued to grow in Kentucky since at least 2009; postsecondary institutions currently produce approximately 6,000 degrees each year — about 1,500 short of workforce needs. The need for nurses and nursing instructors, pharmacists, mental health professionals and medical administrators drive much of the growth.
The number of graduates with health care certificates and associate degrees also continues to rise. Future workforce needs include pharmacist technicians, medical assistants and clinical lab technicians.
The report points to educational programs for pharmacy technicians and allied health sciences as areas of likely expansion. It also projects that programs for emergency medical technicians, respiratory care therapists and dental hygienists will continue to perform well in meeting workforce needs.
The report also shows an opportunity to increase diversity in the sector. Kentucky health care workers are typically white females between the ages of 25 and 34, while only about 10% of workers are people of color, according to the analysis.
Overall, more than half of Kentuckians who graduate with a health care major stay in the state long-term, and while salaries are not as competitive as several bordering states, the proportion of health care workers retained in-state is above the national average.
Kentucky health care worker salaries have increased in similar amounts compared to surrounding states. The median salary for a nurse practitioner in 2019 topped $96,000, up from $55,000 a decade earlier. Registered nurses earned around $61,700 in 2019, compared to $55,500 in 2009. The median salary for pharmacists also rose from $110,600 to more than $126,000 over the decade.
David Mahan, associate vice president for data, research and advanced analytics at CPE, said a credential in health care can open the door to a steady, high-paying career. But he also urged institutions and prospective students to think carefully about their programs in terms of the local workforce needs.
“While the report shows that the health care industry is thriving, the demand for degrees and other credentials can vary from one focus area to the next, and by Kentucky region,” he said. “The challenge for higher education over the next decade will be honing in on the health care pathways that align to the strongest job demand and the lowest supply of graduates. That will require both institutions and students to remain deliberate and well-informed.”
The report can be accessed at http://cpe.ky.gov/data/reports/healthcarereport.pdf.