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An Exploration of the Adoption of Public Health Degrees and Certificates in Community Colleges Open Access

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Efforts aimed at strengthening the governmental public health workforce have led to increased attention on undergraduate public health education. The focus, to date, has been on four-year institutions with minimal attention provided to community, or two-year, colleges and their potential role in addressing public health workforce needs. Progress for their inclusion has recently been demonstrated with the launch of a Healthy People 2020 objective that sets out to increase the proportion of two-year colleges offering public health or related associate degrees and/or certificate programs. In order to achieve this objective, an understanding is needed regarding why and how public health degrees and certificates are adopted in community colleges. Guided by Everett M. Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations theory, the current research used mixed methods employing qualitative techniques of in-depth interviews and documentary analysis through a comparative multiple case study approach, and quantitative methods through a web-based course catalog scan, to explore factors and processes involved in the adoption of public health associate degrees and certificates and to document their rate of adoption. Results estimate the rate of adoption of public health degree and/or certificate programs between academic years 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 at zero; however, an estimated net of one new community college offered a public health degree and/or certificate during that time period. Nine community colleges served as cases and included community colleges with public health programs that were matched to community colleges without public health programs. Key influences on a community college's decision to adopt a new academic program relate to the community college mission to develop a workforce and prepare students for further study. Therefore, it must be demonstrated that jobs will be available and curriculum will articulate with four-year programs. Additional considerations in the adoption process include level of faculty and student awareness of public health, ability to collaborate within and outside the college, availability of resources, and accessibility to information regarding development and implementation of public health programs. Recommendations are presented for public health academic and practice communities to facilitate adoption of public health curricula in community colleges, leading to achievement of the Healthy People 2020 objective.

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