Noncredit Research Collaborative

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This report follows a series of state-level reports on Iowa, Louisiana, and Virginia that explored the noncredit data infrastructure and presented descriptive analyses of data at the course/program level for each individual state.

The findings presented in each of these reports, including the current report that synthesizes results across the three states, were derived through a collaborative approach involving leaders from all three partner states. Research team members worked closely with state leaders to identify data elements pertaining to community college noncredit offerings at the course/program level, which is our unit of analysis for this project, captured at the state level. Further, the research team gathered information on the policy context for noncredit offerings, including state-level data collection that frame what data are available and why. By examining the data elements on noncredit education available in each state, the research team compared these findings both to develop a set of common operational definitions and data inventory as well as to better understand the similarities and differences in noncredit programming and data availability.

We use administrative data on hundreds of thousands of noncredit and credit students in Iowa and California community colleges to examine the demographic characteristics of those who first enroll in noncredit or credit education as well as those who transition from noncredit to credit education and those who do not.

Key findings on noncredit student outcomes in Iowa include the following:

  • The majority of noncredit offerings did not include data on non-degree credentials. However, given the importance of workforce success for those in occupational offerings, as well as the reporting requirements often associated with funding for those programs, it is not surprising that the availability of non-degree credential data is most prevalent for Occupational Training.
  • Among Occupational Training offerings, more than half included industry certification and nearly 80 percent were associated with a college-issued certificate.
  • Data availability on outcomes was consistent across noncredit types, with completion data available on all offerings and labor market outcomes data available on nearly 43 percent of Occupational Training offerings.

Community college noncredit education is a substantial yet sorely understudied segment of American higher education, enrolling millions of students each year, many in occupational courses. There is growing interest in understanding the extent to which noncredit programs support students’ future educational attainment and workforce preparation, but data limitations at the state and national levels have inhibited intensive research. In this study, we present the most exhaustive empirical portrait of community college noncredit education to date. Using administrative data on millions of community college students from Iowa, California, Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, we investigate who enrolls in noncredit education, the types of courses they take, and the academic and employment outcomes they experience. Our results both support and temper growing enthusiasm about the contributions of noncredit education to students’ academic and employment goals. Our study offers new and timely insights into community college noncredit education, addressing pressing policy questions regarding articulation between noncredit and for-credit education, the labor market value of noncredit education, and the collection of data on noncredit education.

Objective: This study extends prior work on a distortion in IPEDS data brought about by the exclusion of noncredit enrollments. This affects a commonly used metric, expenditures per FTE student. The problem is that expenditures for noncredit courses are reported to IPEDS but the enrollments are not. Previous research covered 4 states— New York, New Jersey, California, and North Carolina. The current study adds four more states—Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Method: Data on noncredit enrollments were made available from system offices in our four new states. In addition, discussions were held on both the system and the campus level to verify the data and assumptions. Data were merged with existing IPEDS data at the campus and state level and were adjusted to account for noncredit enrollments.

Results: Evidence supports the argument that IPEDS data overestimates the resources that community colleges have to spend on each student, although distortions vary greatly between states and among colleges in the same state.