The purpose of this article is to provide a comparison of the wages and workforce participation rates for graduates with degrees in dental support and nursing. Students, educators, and employers can use the information presented here, and in the interactive graphics to inform post-graduation expectations, craft better instructional programs, and recruit graduates for employment.
Research & Planning (R&P) found that nursing graduates were generally older than dental support graduates and had higher median annual wages. Dental support graduates were more likely to work in health care outside Wyoming where they earned higher wages. The data show that dental support students’ years of post-graduate experience were rewarded at a higher rate than nursing students’ years of experience.
R&P obtained the administrative data used in this analysis through memorandums of understanding with labor market information offices in 11 partner states1, the University of Wyoming, and Wyoming Community College Commission, the Wyoming Department of Education, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. More information on R&P’s memorandums of understanding can be found at http://doe.state.wy.us/LMI/LMIinfo.htm.
Wyoming’s low population can make confidentiality and data analysis challenging. To maintain student privacy, R&P combined records for Wyoming community college graduates from the 2008/09, 2009/10, and 2010/11 school years, and then calculated median annual wages for the first five years after graduation. All wage data are gathered from unemployment insurance wage records and are converted into 2015 dollars. For research purposes, educational programs are assigned a Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) title and code (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). This report looks at graduates from all Wyoming community colleges with a two-year occupational certificate in dental support, that is dental support services and allied professions (CIP code 5106), and nursing, or registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing (CIP code 5138). Dental support and nursing were chosen for this report because both programs had a relatively high number of graduates between 2008 and 2011, and a recognizable, corresponding health care occupation (i.e. dental hygienist and registered nurse).
Over 90% of the graduates in dental support and nursing were female (see Table 1). There were 115 degrees issued in dental support, 56.5% of which were granted to students over the age of 25, and 791 degrees issued in nursing, where 76.0% of students were over age 25.
Nursing graduates tended to have a higher annual wages than dental support graduates (see Table 2). In the first year after graduation, nursing graduates who found work in Wyoming’s health care industry earned a median wage of $47,114, a higher wage than the nursing graduates who worked in health care in partner states ($39,656). Graduates with a degree in dental support generally earned more in partner states one year after graduation than dental support graduates who worked in Wyoming ($38,211 compared to $33,735). However, this was not the case five years after graduation, when dental support graduates in Wyoming’s health care industry generally earned more than dental support graduates in health care in partner states ($50,213 compared to $47,519).
Dental support graduates left Wyoming’s health care industry at a faster rate than nursing graduates (see Table 3). From one to five years after graduation, there was a 32.5% reduction in the number of dental support graduates working in health care in Wyoming, compared to a reduction of 19.8% for nursing graduates. Five years after graduation, 58.4% of nursing graduates remained working in health care in Wyoming, whereas only 23.5% of dental support graduates were still working in health care in Wyoming. R&P also found 67.0% of dental support graduates worked in a partner state’s health care industry five years after graduation, compared to 17.8% of nursing graduates.
In 2008/09, 2009/10, and 2010/11, Wyoming community colleges issued 676 more nursing degrees than dental support degrees. While both female dominated programs, the nursing graduates were generally older than the dental support graduates. Variations in prerequisites may contribute to the age difference between the two programs, as well as the career pathways chosen by the students: nursing may appeal more to those looking for a second career, or students may work as a certified nursing assistant before committing to a two year program.
The median wage for nursing graduates working in Wyoming’s health care industry was more than $13,000 greater than dental support service graduates in the year following graduation (see Figure 1). This gap narrowed to a difference of about $6,000 five years after graduation. This shows that Wyoming’s health care market may initially place a higher value on a nurse’s education, but years of experience for a dental support graduate have a relatively higher value in Wyoming’s labor market.
The lesser value placed on the education of dental support graduates may encourage those students to leave Wyoming: dental support graduates working in health care in a partner state initially earn about $4,500 more annually than those who stay in Wyoming (see Figure 2). The extended tables show 31.3% of dental support graduates work in healthcare in a partner state the year after graduation, as compared to 9.4% of nursing graduates (see Figure 3).
Figures 1 and 2 show a correlation between wages and the rate at which dental support graduates leave Wyoming. However, this does not necessarily indicate that dental support graduates leave Wyoming purely in hope of higher wages elsewhere. It may be that dental support graduates only exit Wyoming’s labor market if they receive an offer in another state that is both greater than their current wage and large enough to offset the costs of moving a household. It is also possible that dental support graduates who worked out-of-state received the same rate of pay as their in-state colleagues but had the opportunity to work more hours in a partner states’ economy. This may have resulted in a skewed representation of wages offered by other states. Alternatively, the location of Wyoming’s two-year dental support programs, offered at community colleges in Cheyenne and Sheridan, may have also contributed to graduates’ tendency to leave Wyoming, possibly for work in Billings or Fort Collins, as opposed to the more widely offered nursing programs. It is difficult to determine causation without more data.
Nursing graduates in Wyoming consistently had higher median wages in health care than in partner states (see Figure 4), which correlates to the slower rate at which nursing graduates left for a partner states’ health care labor market. However, lower median earnings in other states did not completely deter nursing graduates from leaving Wyoming, which reinforces the fact that there are motives outside of wages that drive the migration of Wyoming’s graduates.
In 2008/09, 2009/10, and 2010/11, Wyoming’s two-year nursing programs were more popular among students and offered higher median wages to graduates relative to both other states and Wyoming’s dental support programs. Nursing graduates were also less likely to exit Wyoming’s health care labor market and more likely to be over the age of 25 at graduation. The data presented in this article indicate that Wyoming’s health care market placed a higher value on a dental support graduates years of post-graduation experience than nursing graduates.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Introduction to the Classification of Instructional Programs: 2010 edition (CIP-2010). Retrieved February 9, 2017, from