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.

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.