Noncredit Research Collaborative

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We leverage administrative data on over 1.6 million students who initially enrolled in noncredit or for-credit programs at Texas community colleges between academic years 2013-14 and 2017-18. We address the following research questions: who enrolls in noncredit education in Texas? How are noncredit enrollees different from for-credit students? What types of courses do noncredit students take? What kinds of enrollment behaviors and academic outcomes do noncredit students experience? Do noncredit students later participate in for-credit programs of study?

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.