Noncredit Research Collaborative

Frequently Asked Questions

Noncredit education includes “courses or activities carrying no academic credit applicable toward a degree, diploma, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential at the institution or within the postsecondary educational system” (IPEDS Glossary, 2023-2024).

Noncredit educational offerings do not qualify for Title IV financial aid. Noncredit offerings are typically short-term training programs geared toward meeting the specific needs of individuals, communities, and employers in the regions served by colleges.

 The four types of noncredit education are: (1) open-enrollment occupational training geared towards adults seeking skills  relevant to either new employment opportunities or the enhancement of their existing job qualifications.; (2) contract occupational training  arranged and funded by or for employers for the development of their employees’ skills; (3) courses to fulfill personal interests of community members not intended for job entry or career advancement; and (4) basic skill instruction, including adult basic education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL), GED high school equivalency preparation, and pre-college remedial education (D’Amico, Morgan, Robertson, & Houchins, 2014). 

Approximately four million students per year are served through noncredit coursework, accounting for about 40% of all community college students (American Association of Community Colleges, 2023).

Due to the flexible course schedules, short program duration, and lower costs, noncredit programs have the potential to expand access to postsecondary education among low-income adult learners who may find it difficult to balance life and work responsibilities with the longer time requirements and course sequences in and greater cost of credit-bearing programs (Grubb et al., 2003Xu & Ran, 2020). Indeed, existing research (e.g., D’Amico et al., 2017; Xu & Ran, 2020),

indicates that students enrolled in noncredit CTE programs tend to be adult learners and typically are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than are students in credit-bearing programs at community colleges.

Research to date shows that few noncredit students transition to credit pathways (Bahr et al. 2022; Xu & Ran, 2020). Noncredit education leads to modest labor market outcomes with a wide variation by industry and geographic location (Bahr et al., 2022Bahr, et al., 2023Beer, e.al., 2021Xu, et al., 2023). More research is needed to make sense of the wide range of outcomes of noncredit students.

The availability of state-level noncredit data varies greatly based on a number of factors: funding, policy, and mandated reporting (D’Amico et al., 2017Government Accountability Office, 2004Milam, 2005; Van Noy et al., 2008) with the most complete data often available on occupational-focused noncredit education (D’Amico, Van Noy, Srivastava, Bahr, & Xu, 2023).
State-level data are organized into four primary categories: purpose & design, outcomes, demographics & enrollment, and finance.  (D’Amico, Van Noy, Srivastava, Bahr, & Xu, 2023)

Noncredit program offerings are designed with a few key elements in mind (Van Noy, Hughes & Bjorn, 2023). These include labor market relevance, awareness of the need to articulate to credit, and skills-focus instruction and assessment. Little information is available on outcomes to promote transparency and resources are limited to provide student supports. Funding for noncredit varies, creating wide variation in cost to students.

At present, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) does not collect data on noncredit student enrollment (Erwin, 2019); however, there were proposals to include noncredit enrollments as recently as 2022.

The Noncredit Research Collaborative’s FAQs are always growing and changing and we would like your input. Please let us know what you would like to know about noncredit education.