Noncredit Research Collaborative

Publications

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With support from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics/National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) and key partners
at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Michigan, and University of California–Irvine are working with state leaders from across the country to examine noncredit data in the service of three key goals:

  • Develop an inventory of and consistent operational definitions for state-level noncredit data elements to better understand the noncredit data infrastructure.
  • Collect and examine noncredit course/program-level data to better understand those offerings and their associations with enrollment rates, outcomes, instructional characteristics, and funding arrangements.
  • Uncover the drivers of noncredit offerings and produce relevant policy implications.

In addition to this analysis, the project convenes a National Learning Community of states on data for noncredit education and non-degree credentials. This project seeks to lay the groundwork for a common definitional language for future data collection and analysis efforts to improve the understanding of the value and quality of noncredit programs and non-degree credentials.

Across the country, as technology continues to advance rapidly, the labor market exhibits a growing need for workers who receive frequent and ongoing skill development. Employers in many fields struggle to find adequately trained workers to meet their needs. Community college noncredit career and technical education (CTE) programs are an important contributor to skill and workforce development and help to close this “skills gap.”

This brief summarizes early findings from a study of FastForward, which uses a pay-for-performance model to fund noncredit CTE programs at the 23 colleges in the Virginia Community College System. FastForward aims to increase the supply of workers who receive credentials for high-demand occupations in Virginia. The FastForward study is focused on identifying institutional and programmatic factors that may influence learners’ academic and labor market outcomes. This brief presents findings on the different approaches used by colleges and programs to deliver training, student and staff experiences in these CTE programs, and students’ academic and labor market outcomes.

Industry-recognized certificates are one of the most common credential types associated with public workforce training programs, but little research has been conducted on the economic benefits of these credentials in the labor market. This paper provides one of the the first quasi-experimental evidence on the labor market returns to industry-recognized credentials connected to community college workforce noncredit training programs. Based on a novel data that includes approximately 24,000 working-age adults enrolled in noncredit workforce training programs at the Virginia Community College System, we estimate an individual-level fixed effects model to estimate earnings premia net of fixed attributes and earnings time-trends. Our results indicate that earning an industry-recognized credential on average increases quarterly earnings by approximately $1,000 and the probability of being employed by 2.4 percentage points, although there is substantial heterogeneity in economic return across different fields of study. We also find that the noncredit workforce training programs enroll a different segment of the population than credit-bearing programs at community colleges, thus providing an important alternative pathway to workforce opportunities for populations traditionally underrepresented in the credit-bearing sector.

This report presents initial findings from a comprehensive study being undertaken to examine noncredit CTE programs offered within the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). In 2016, the Virginia legislature, through HB66, passed legislation to expand participation in community college noncredit CTE programs. These programs are commonly known in Virginia as “FastForward” programs. A key component of this initiative is an innovative funding mechanism, the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant (WCG), which is a cost-sharing pay for-performance model (described in more detail below). The programs covered under this initiative are those that lead to an industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field; our analyses focus on this subset of eligible “FastForward programs.” We capitalize on this data to generate additional robust evidence about the academic and labor market outcomes of students enrolled in FastForward programs. In this report, we focus on our analyses related to participant composition, program success, and the relationship between noncredit and credit enrollment.

We use administrative data on millions of noncredit and credit students in Iowa and California community colleges to examine the most common enrollment patterns among community college entrants, students who first enrolled exclusively in noncredit education, and students who first enrolled in noncredit education and then later enrolled in credit coursework.

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.

Many public workforce training programs lead to industry-recognized, third-party awarded credentials, but little research has been conducted on the economic benefits of these credentials in the labor market. This paper provides quasi-experimental evidence on the labor market returns to industry-recognized credentials connected to community college workforce noncredit training programs. Based on novel data that includes approximately 24,000 working-age adults enrolled in noncredit workforce training programs at the Virginia Community College System, we employ a comparative individual-level fixed effects model to estimate earnings premia net of fixed attributes and earnings time-trends. Our results indicate that earning an industry-recognized credential, on average, increases quarterly earnings by approximately $1,000 and the probability of being employed by 2.4 percentage points, although there is substantial heterogeneity in economic return across different program fields. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the earnings gains associated with the industry credential obtained through the noncredit workforce training would exceed program costs in just over half a year on average.

Noncredit education and non-degree credentials (NDCs) are increasingly valued by students and policymakers. Yet data in this field is scarce and findings on student
outcomes are limited and difficult to interpret and compare. This study reviews a core group of articles on noncredit and NDC outcomes, focusing on completion, wages, and employment.

With rapid technological advances, the U.S. labor market exhibits a growing need for more frequent and ongoing skill development. Community college noncredit career and technical education (CTE) programs that allow students to complete workforce training and earn credentials play an essential role in providing workers with the skills they need to compete for jobs in high-demand fields. Yet, there is a dearth of research on these programs because noncredit students are typically not included in state and national postsecondary datasets. In this guest blog for CTE Month, researchers Di Xu, Benjamin Castleman, and Betsy Tessler discuss their IES-funded exploration study in which they build on a long-standing research partnership with the Virginia Community College System and leverage a variety of data sources to investigate the Commonwealth’s FastForward programs. These programs are noncredit CTE programs designed to lead to an industry-recognized credential in one of several high-demand fields identified by the Virginia Workforce Board.

This is the trancription of Dr. Peter Bahr’s conversation with Meni Sarris his podcast, The Education Beyond Degrees. Read their conversation about Dr. Bahr’s research and how the overlap of serving our communities and higher education has become critical as the needs of our students change.

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.

Objective: This study examines the characteristics, course enrollment patterns, and academic outcomes of students who started their college careers in noncredit courses. Method: Drawing upon a rich dataset that includes transcript and demographic information on both for-credit and noncredit students in multiple institutions, this study explores the demographic and academic profiles of students enrolled in various fields of noncredit education, their course performance in noncredit programs, their educational intent upon initial enrollment, and their transition to the for-credit sector among degree-seeking students. Results: Our results support recent evidence from qualitative studies and studies from a single institution that students enrolled in noncredit programs tend to be adult learners and are typically from a lower socioeconomic background than credit students at community colleges. Yet, more than half of the noncredit students drop out of college after their initial term, even among students who expressed intent to transition to credit-bearing programs. The idiosyncratic patterns of course enrollment and transition to credential programs seem to suggest that there is no general structured pathway or institutional support for credential-seeking noncredit students. Contributions: This article is among one of the first attempts that use student transcript data from multiple institutions to provide a comprehensive understanding of noncredit students and their academic outcomes. Results from this study highlight the importance of future research in exploring institutional services and structures that may effectively facilitate the academic progression and success of noncredit students.

A commonly used metric for measuring college costs, drawn from data in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), is expenditure per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. This article discusses an error in this per FTE calculation when using IPEDS data, especially with regard to community colleges. The problem is that expenditures for noncredit courses are reported to IPEDS but enrollments are not. This exclusion inflates any per FTE student figure calculated from IPEDS, in particular expenditures and revenues. A 2021 IPEDS Technical Review Panel (TRP #62) acknowledged this problem and moved campus institutional research offices a step closer to reporting noncredit enrollment data (RTI International, 2021). This article is the first to provide some numbers on the magnitude of this problem. It covers eight states—California, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Data on noncredit community college enrollments were made available from system offices in all states. In addition, discussions were held at both the system level and the campus level to verify the data and assumptions. Figures provided by states were merged with existing IPEDS data at the campus and state levels, and then were adjusted to account for noncredit enrollments. The results provide evidence that calculations using IPEDS data alone overestimate the resources that community colleges have to spend on each student, although distortions vary greatly between states and among colleges in the same state. The results have important implications for research studies and college benchmarking.

Keywords: community college spending, noncredit enrollments, IPEDS

Multiple studies show that outcomes, whether they be better degree completion rates or successful short-term workforce training, are negatively affected by inadequate funding (Kahlenberg, 2015). To bolster their case for underfunding, researchers and college advocacy groups produce studies that rely on an important federal dataset–the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)–which attempts to standardize input and output measures among colleges and make comparisons over time possible. This article is about how the use of this national database can lead to a distorted picture of community colleges that can produce incorrect and possibly counterproductive public policy. IPEDS, or sometimes the way that it is used, shortchanges the community college in several ways. This article will discuss three of them, which result in an undercounting of student enrollment at community colleges and, therefore, either directly or indirectly, have a negative impact on funding. The three problems with common uses of IPEDS data are: (1) measuring enrollments using full-time equivalents (FTEs) rather than headcounts; (2) defining the community college sector in a way that undercounts enrollment; and (3) the exclusion of noncredit course enrollments that makes community colleges look better funded than they really are. Correcting the first two of these would not require colleges to collect more data but the third one would. The article gives brief attention to the first two points, reserving the most attention for the third.

Community colleges are a major source of non-degree credentials (NDCs) through their noncredit workforce education offerings. NDCs include certificates, certifications, licenses, badges, and micro-redentials (Credential Engine, 2019). Colleges award certificates and also prepare students to obtain certifications and licensure. Noncredit education has long been a part of community colleges across the nation, with enrollment levels almost matching credit enrollments (AACC, 2021; Jacoby, 2021). Credentials earned in noncredit programs are gaining increasing attention for their potential to provide swift access to career opportunities. Some have argued that noncredit programs may also expand the accessibility of higher education for students who have not attended college before and need shorter and more flexible postsecondary opportunities (Grubb, Badway, & Bell, 2003; Van Noy et al., 2008; D’Amico et al., 2019). Since the pandemic, increasing numbers of adults nationally report they prefer non-degree pathways that can be completed quickly to degree programs (Strada, 2020; Cengage, 2022). At the same time, a rising number of states have become interested in supporting NDCs. In this context, it is imperative to better understand if these programs and credentials are a worthwhile investment of time and resources.

Today, more than two-thirds of US adults considering further education report that they prefer a non-degree option—up from about one-half prior to the pandemic. With growing interest and investment in opportunities for short-term flexible options to prepare individuals for the workforce, it is essential to cultivate a better understanding of noncredit education and non-degree credentials. Despite the importance of this information, multiple analyses have shown that only about three-quarters of states collect data on their noncredit programming.

Furthermore, state-level data collection on non-degree credentials (such as certificates, certifications, licensure, badges, and microcredentials) varies widely and is still under development in many locations.

Key findings on noncredit offerings and enrollment include the following:

  • Occupational training represented around 80 percent of all noncredit offerings and enrollments in VCCS.
  • Females represented higher enrollments in noncredit education overall (54% vs. 39%), as well as in each specific type of noncredit education (e.g., occupational training, pre-college), with the largest gender gap in pre-college (66% vs. 28%).
  • When removing those for whom sex/gender data were missing, females comprised 58 percent of noncredit enrollments. By comparison, females comprised 57 percent of for-credit community college students in Virginia, thus showing near equal representation.
  • The strong focus on occupational training among noncredit enrollees was consistent in each gender and racial subgroup.
  • Approximately 7 percent of noncredit enrollees in 2020–2021 did not have a reported sex/gender in the state data system, and more than two-thirds had missing values for race on average. The level of missingness for race was especially high for pre-college, where more than 90 percent of the enrollees were missing race information. There are many potential reasons for missingness, including a simplified admission process for noncredit training that might not require students to report demographics and contract training designed for employers who may not provide demographics for all participants.
  • With the majority of enrollments not having a specified race in the system, it is difficult to draw conclusions on enrollment patterns. However, for those records including race, the enrollments seemed to be somewhat similar to credit enrollments in the VCCS, where 70 percent of credit enrollees were White, 15 percent Black, 7 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Asian.

Millions of students enroll in community colleges noncredit programs every year—most in occupational training—but there are few large-scale studies of their effectiveness in increasing students’ employment opportunities and earnings. In this study, we applied individual fixed effects models to state longitudinal administrative data from Texas to estimate the labor market returns to community college noncredit occupational education. We find a modest but statistically significant increase in average quarterly earnings exceeding $500 per quarter (2019 dollars). Returns vary by duration of training, field of study, and number of training spells. Our findings speak to ongoing national policy debates about expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to include some community college noncredit programs, as well numerous state efforts to increase workforce readiness.

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?

Noncredit education and non-degree credentials (NDCs) are increasingly valued by students and policymakers. Yet data in this field is scarce and findings on student
outcomes are limited and difficult to interpret and compare. This study reviews a core group of articles on noncredit and NDC outcomes, focusing on completion, wages, and employment.

Community colleges are a major source of non-degree credentials (NDCs) through their noncredit workforce education offerings. NDCs include certificates, certifications, licenses, badges, and micro-redentials (Credential Engine, 2019). Colleges award certificates and also prepare students to obtain certifications and licensure. Noncredit education has long been a part of community colleges across the nation, with enrollment levels almost matching credit enrollments (AACC, 2021; Jacoby, 2021). Credentials earned in noncredit programs are gaining increasing attention for their potential to provide swift access to career opportunities. Some have argued that noncredit programs may also expand the accessibility of higher education for students who have not attended college before and need shorter and more flexible postsecondary opportunities (Grubb, Badway, & Bell, 2003; Van Noy et al., 2008; D’Amico et al., 2019). Since the pandemic, increasing numbers of adults nationally report they prefer non-degree pathways that can be completed quickly to degree programs (Strada, 2020; Cengage, 2022). At the same time, a rising number of states have become interested in supporting NDCs. In this context, it is imperative to better understand if these programs and credentials are a worthwhile investment of time and resources.

Today, more than two-thirds of US adults considering further education report that they prefer a non-degree option—up from about one-half prior to the pandemic. With growing interest and investment in opportunities for short-term flexible options to prepare individuals for the workforce, it is essential to cultivate a better understanding of noncredit education and non-degree credentials. Despite the importance of this information, multiple analyses have shown that only about three-quarters of states collect data on their noncredit programming.

Furthermore, state-level data collection on non-degree credentials (such as certificates, certifications, licensure, badges, and microcredentials) varies widely and is still under development in many locations.

Key findings on noncredit offerings and enrollment include the following:

  • Occupational training represented around 80 percent of all noncredit offerings and enrollments in VCCS.
  • Females represented higher enrollments in noncredit education overall (54% vs. 39%), as well as in each specific type of noncredit education (e.g., occupational training, pre-college), with the largest gender gap in pre-college (66% vs. 28%).
  • When removing those for whom sex/gender data were missing, females comprised 58 percent of noncredit enrollments. By comparison, females comprised 57 percent of for-credit community college students in Virginia, thus showing near equal representation.
  • The strong focus on occupational training among noncredit enrollees was consistent in each gender and racial subgroup.
  • Approximately 7 percent of noncredit enrollees in 2020–2021 did not have a reported sex/gender in the state data system, and more than two-thirds had missing values for race on average. The level of missingness for race was especially high for pre-college, where more than 90 percent of the enrollees were missing race information. There are many potential reasons for missingness, including a simplified admission process for noncredit training that might not require students to report demographics and contract training designed for employers who may not provide demographics for all participants.
  • With the majority of enrollments not having a specified race in the system, it is difficult to draw conclusions on enrollment patterns. However, for those records including race, the enrollments seemed to be somewhat similar to credit enrollments in the VCCS, where 70 percent of credit enrollees were White, 15 percent Black, 7 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Asian.

Millions of students enroll in community colleges noncredit programs every year—most in occupational training—but there are few large-scale studies of their effectiveness in increasing students’ employment opportunities and earnings. In this study, we applied individual fixed effects models to state longitudinal administrative data from Texas to estimate the labor market returns to community college noncredit occupational education. We find a modest but statistically significant increase in average quarterly earnings exceeding $500 per quarter (2019 dollars). Returns vary by duration of training, field of study, and number of training spells. Our findings speak to ongoing national policy debates about expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to include some community college noncredit programs, as well numerous state efforts to increase workforce readiness.

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?

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.

Noncredit workforce education conveys workrelevant skills in a wide range of industries. Courses and programs are provided by community and technical colleges to an estimated five million students annually (American Association of Community Colleges, 2021), and national survey data show that as much as one-quarter of adults hold a noncredit certificate, license, or other vocational award (Cronen, McQuiggan & Isenberg, 2017). Noncredit programs vary in length, and they may or may not lead to a non-degree credential. When credentials are granted, they are either awarded by the college through which the program was offered (often the case with certificates) or earned through an industry sponsored assessment (more common in the cases of certifications or professional licenses). While there has been a substantial increase in interest in these programs among both students and policymakers in recent years, little research is available on their value or economic return.

The rising interest in short-term training leading directly to employment has raised the profile of noncredit education among both policymakers and the public. Yet, despite this interest, data on noncredit educational offerings have not been systematically collected. The lack of data has limited the ability to examine important questions about noncredit education, such as its value to individuals, employers, and the economy at large. Policymakers need access to research that explains how noncredit is working (or not) in their area if they are to create sound policies to support or make changes to this increasingly popular form of education. To begin to address this issue, several states have begun building a noncredit data infrastructure.

Through an ongoing effort to better understand the state-level noncredit data infrastructure, we have engaged in a project with partners from Iowa, Louisiana, and Virginia to achieve the following:

  1. Develop an inventory of, and develop consistent operational definitions for, state-level noncredit data elements to better understand the noncredit data infrastructure;
  2. Collect and examine noncredit course/program-level data to explore noncredit offerings and their associations with enrollment rates, outcomes, instructional characteristics, and financial arrangements; and
  3. Uncover the drivers of noncredit offerings and produce relevant policy implications.

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.

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.

This paper examines the literature on career decisions, how findings might vary in studies across the life course, and how the literature applies to noncredit programs. The paper begins with a broad overview of theoretical ideas about career decision-making that draws on literature from multiple fields. This is followed by a discussion of a framework based in pragmatic rationality that is aimed at providing a decision-making roadmap for noncredit students. The paper then examines the literature on career transitions focused on stages in the life course from youth through adulthood, decision-making about educational pathways, and what is known specifically about learners in community college noncredit education. The paper concludes by examining the implications of its findings for community college noncredit education programs and suggesting future directions for research.

Serving more than 12 million students each year (AACC 2019), community colleges have an undeniable impact on American higher education, state workforces, local communities, and the individuals they serve. This issue brief offers higher education leaders research-based perspectives on the workforce education role of community colleges. For community college leaders, this report documents and contextualizes important pieces of the comprehensive community college mission related to workforce development and connects them with current movements in the field. Additionally, this issue brief offers an overview to leaders not presently working in the community college setting who may be less familiar with community college functions other than college transfer.

The brief is organized into four primary sections: First, it describes the workforce skills gap and the relevance to community college education. Second, it offers a description of the two primary delivery mechanisms for workforce education in the community college: credit-based career and technical education and noncredit occupational training. Third, it contextualizes the two primary functions through a discussion of three important movements associated with community colleges: registered apprenticeships, associate of applied science articulation to the university sector, and credit for prior learning.

Community college practitioners are quick to note that official IPEDS analyses of expenditures and revenues per FTE overstate the amount they spend on each student. This results from the fact that enrollments in their non-credit courses are not included in the FTE count but expenditures for these courses are. While this situation may also occur in four-year colleges, the extent to which it occurs is thought to be less of a problem in determining costs per student. Using data from three states, this is the first study of its kind that examines this measurement issue. With it comes an invitation to readers to participate (crowd sourcing) in the study as joint authors(s) by contributing data and their analysis.

With support from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics/National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) and key partners
at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Michigan, and University of California–Irvine are working with state leaders from across the country to examine noncredit data in the service of three key goals:

  • Develop an inventory of and consistent operational definitions for state-level noncredit data elements to better understand the noncredit data infrastructure.
  • Collect and examine noncredit course/program-level data to better understand those offerings and their associations with enrollment rates, outcomes, instructional characteristics, and funding arrangements.
  • Uncover the drivers of noncredit offerings and produce relevant policy implications.

In addition to this analysis, the project convenes a National Learning Community of states on data for noncredit education and non-degree credentials. This project seeks to lay the groundwork for a common definitional language for future data collection and analysis efforts to improve the understanding of the value and quality of noncredit programs and non-degree credentials.

Across the country, as technology continues to advance rapidly, the labor market exhibits a growing need for workers who receive frequent and ongoing skill development. Employers in many fields struggle to find adequately trained workers to meet their needs. Community college noncredit career and technical education (CTE) programs are an important contributor to skill and workforce development and help to close this “skills gap.”

This brief summarizes early findings from a study of FastForward, which uses a pay-for-performance model to fund noncredit CTE programs at the 23 colleges in the Virginia Community College System. FastForward aims to increase the supply of workers who receive credentials for high-demand occupations in Virginia. The FastForward study is focused on identifying institutional and programmatic factors that may influence learners’ academic and labor market outcomes. This brief presents findings on the different approaches used by colleges and programs to deliver training, student and staff experiences in these CTE programs, and students’ academic and labor market outcomes.

Industry-recognized certificates are one of the most common credential types associated with public workforce training programs, but little research has been conducted on the economic benefits of these credentials in the labor market. This paper provides one of the the first quasi-experimental evidence on the labor market returns to industry-recognized credentials connected to community college workforce noncredit training programs. Based on a novel data that includes approximately 24,000 working-age adults enrolled in noncredit workforce training programs at the Virginia Community College System, we estimate an individual-level fixed effects model to estimate earnings premia net of fixed attributes and earnings time-trends. Our results indicate that earning an industry-recognized credential on average increases quarterly earnings by approximately $1,000 and the probability of being employed by 2.4 percentage points, although there is substantial heterogeneity in economic return across different fields of study. We also find that the noncredit workforce training programs enroll a different segment of the population than credit-bearing programs at community colleges, thus providing an important alternative pathway to workforce opportunities for populations traditionally underrepresented in the credit-bearing sector.

This report presents initial findings from a comprehensive study being undertaken to examine noncredit CTE programs offered within the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). In 2016, the Virginia legislature, through HB66, passed legislation to expand participation in community college noncredit CTE programs. These programs are commonly known in Virginia as “FastForward” programs. A key component of this initiative is an innovative funding mechanism, the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant (WCG), which is a cost-sharing pay for-performance model (described in more detail below). The programs covered under this initiative are those that lead to an industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field; our analyses focus on this subset of eligible “FastForward programs.” We capitalize on this data to generate additional robust evidence about the academic and labor market outcomes of students enrolled in FastForward programs. In this report, we focus on our analyses related to participant composition, program success, and the relationship between noncredit and credit enrollment.

We use administrative data on millions of noncredit and credit students in Iowa and California community colleges to examine the most common enrollment patterns among community college entrants, students who first enrolled exclusively in noncredit education, and students who first enrolled in noncredit education and then later enrolled in credit coursework.

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.

Objective: This study examines the characteristics, course enrollment patterns, and academic outcomes of students who started their college careers in noncredit courses. Method: Drawing upon a rich dataset that includes transcript and demographic information on both for-credit and noncredit students in multiple institutions, this study explores the demographic and academic profiles of students enrolled in various fields of noncredit education, their course performance in noncredit programs, their educational intent upon initial enrollment, and their transition to the for-credit sector among degree-seeking students. Results: Our results support recent evidence from qualitative studies and studies from a single institution that students enrolled in noncredit programs tend to be adult learners and are typically from a lower socioeconomic background than credit students at community colleges. Yet, more than half of the noncredit students drop out of college after their initial term, even among students who expressed intent to transition to credit-bearing programs. The idiosyncratic patterns of course enrollment and transition to credential programs seem to suggest that there is no general structured pathway or institutional support for credential-seeking noncredit students. Contributions: This article is among one of the first attempts that use student transcript data from multiple institutions to provide a comprehensive understanding of noncredit students and their academic outcomes. Results from this study highlight the importance of future research in exploring institutional services and structures that may effectively facilitate the academic progression and success of noncredit students.

A commonly used metric for measuring college costs, drawn from data in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), is expenditure per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. This article discusses an error in this per FTE calculation when using IPEDS data, especially with regard to community colleges. The problem is that expenditures for noncredit courses are reported to IPEDS but enrollments are not. This exclusion inflates any per FTE student figure calculated from IPEDS, in particular expenditures and revenues. A 2021 IPEDS Technical Review Panel (TRP #62) acknowledged this problem and moved campus institutional research offices a step closer to reporting noncredit enrollment data (RTI International, 2021). This article is the first to provide some numbers on the magnitude of this problem. It covers eight states—California, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Data on noncredit community college enrollments were made available from system offices in all states. In addition, discussions were held at both the system level and the campus level to verify the data and assumptions. Figures provided by states were merged with existing IPEDS data at the campus and state levels, and then were adjusted to account for noncredit enrollments. The results provide evidence that calculations using IPEDS data alone overestimate the resources that community colleges have to spend on each student, although distortions vary greatly between states and among colleges in the same state. The results have important implications for research studies and college benchmarking.

Keywords: community college spending, noncredit enrollments, IPEDS

Multiple studies show that outcomes, whether they be better degree completion rates or successful short-term workforce training, are negatively affected by inadequate funding (Kahlenberg, 2015). To bolster their case for underfunding, researchers and college advocacy groups produce studies that rely on an important federal dataset–the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)–which attempts to standardize input and output measures among colleges and make comparisons over time possible. This article is about how the use of this national database can lead to a distorted picture of community colleges that can produce incorrect and possibly counterproductive public policy. IPEDS, or sometimes the way that it is used, shortchanges the community college in several ways. This article will discuss three of them, which result in an undercounting of student enrollment at community colleges and, therefore, either directly or indirectly, have a negative impact on funding. The three problems with common uses of IPEDS data are: (1) measuring enrollments using full-time equivalents (FTEs) rather than headcounts; (2) defining the community college sector in a way that undercounts enrollment; and (3) the exclusion of noncredit course enrollments that makes community colleges look better funded than they really are. Correcting the first two of these would not require colleges to collect more data but the third one would. The article gives brief attention to the first two points, reserving the most attention for the third.

Representing approximately two in five community college students, noncredit education is an important but understudied segment of the higher education population. In an effort to help open the “black box” of noncredit education in community colleges, the present study uses an established noncredit course typology (occupational training, sponsored occupational training, personal interest, and precollege remediation) to better understand the predictors of noncredit enrollment and outcomes in Iowa. Using a sample of more than 181,000 records, we employed a series of regression analyses to discuss variables associated with enrollment in the noncredit course types, the number of completions, and the number of contact hours. Nuanced findings and implications were associated with race/ethnicity, gender, institutional mission as captured through Carnegie Classifications, and career fields based on the 16 career clusters.

Objective: In the first study of its kind, the impact of excluding noncredit enrollments in calculations of spending in community colleges is explored. Noncredit enrollments are not reported to Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), but expenditures for these efforts are. This study corrects for this omission and provides new estimates of spending on community college students in four states. Method: Data on noncredit enrollments were made available from four states—New York, New Jersey, California, and North Carolina. Interviews with campus and state officials within each state helped us verify the findings. In addition, Delta Cost Project data were analyzed and adjusted to account for noncredit enrollments. Results: Our analysis indicates that the expenditure per full-time equivalent (FTE) student measure, which researchers typically use, seriously overstates the resources that community colleges have to spend on educating students; however, great variations exist within and across states. Conclusion: Community colleges are underfunded to an even greater extent than standard IPEDS analyses indicate.

Nearly 40% of all public community college enrollment is in noncredit courses. While there have been several recent reports on the noncredit function at community colleges, little has been done in terms of large-scale studies and/or statewide analyses on this population. The purpose of this study was to explore one state’s community college noncredit student data to identify course types, relationships with demographics, and multi-term enrollment patterns. The authors employed a Cramer’s V to identify relationships between enrollment by course type and demographics and conducted a multi-term course analysis on a sample of 122,886 noncredit student records.

This chapter discusses an often neglected aspect of the community college mission: noncredit courses that address local service area needs.

This chapter provides a discussion of the workforce development role of community colleges and the influence of the “success agenda.” Some of the primary themes from the extant literature that are discussed include: the traditional workforce development role of community colleges; aspects of the completion and/or success agenda relevant to workforce development; recent efforts to frame community college workforce development in the accountability movement (e.g., performance-based funding); implications relevant to the Workforce Investment Act; and, opportunities and constraints through for-credit career-preparation programs, noncredit education, and developments in transfer including articulation and the applied baccalaureate. The chapter also includes a discussion of how these related themes have been approached in the scholarly literature and directions for advancing inquiry.

Many public workforce training programs lead to industry-recognized, third-party awarded credentials, but little research has been conducted on the economic benefits of these credentials in the labor market. This paper provides quasi-experimental evidence on the labor market returns to industry-recognized credentials connected to community college workforce noncredit training programs. Based on novel data that includes approximately 24,000 working-age adults enrolled in noncredit workforce training programs at the Virginia Community College System, we employ a comparative individual-level fixed effects model to estimate earnings premia net of fixed attributes and earnings time-trends. Our results indicate that earning an industry-recognized credential, on average, increases quarterly earnings by approximately $1,000 and the probability of being employed by 2.4 percentage points, although there is substantial heterogeneity in economic return across different program fields. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the earnings gains associated with the industry credential obtained through the noncredit workforce training would exceed program costs in just over half a year on average.

This report presents initial findings from a comprehensive study being undertaken to examine noncredit CTE programs offered within the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). In 2016, the Virginia legislature, through HB66, passed legislation to expand participation in community college noncredit CTE programs. These programs are commonly known in Virginia as “FastForward” programs. A key component of this initiative is an innovative funding mechanism, the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant (WCG), which is a cost-sharing pay-for-performance model (described in more detail below). The programs covered under this initiative are those that lead to an industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field; our analyses focus on this subset of eligible “FastForward programs.”

With rapid technological advances, the U.S. labor market exhibits a growing need for more frequent and ongoing skill development. Community college noncredit career and technical education (CTE) programs that allow students to complete workforce training and earn credentials play an essential role in providing workers with the skills they need to compete for jobs in high-demand fields. Yet, there is a dearth of research on these programs because noncredit students are typically not included in state and national postsecondary datasets. In this guest blog for CTE Month, researchers Di Xu, Benjamin Castleman, and Betsy Tessler discuss their IES-funded exploration study in which they build on a long-standing research partnership with the Virginia Community College System and leverage a variety of data sources to investigate the Commonwealth’s FastForward programs. These programs are noncredit CTE programs designed to lead to an industry-recognized credential in one of several high-demand fields identified by the Virginia Workforce Board.

This is the trancription of Dr. Peter Bahr’s conversation with Meni Sarris his podcast, The Education Beyond Degrees. Read their conversation about Dr. Bahr’s research and how the overlap of serving our communities and higher education has become critical as the needs of our students change.

This article discusses the challenges and opportunities related to mobility and pathways in community college education, particularly in the context of workforce education programs. It highlights the need for a more flexible and holistic approach that allows students to transition between various types of educational offerings, including credit-based career education, noncredit occupational training, and traditional transfer degrees. The “TECH Approach” is proposed, which includes principles of transparency, equity, career orientation, and a holistic approach to create clearer and more accessible pathways for students. The article provides examples of institutions that have successfully implemented such pathways, emphasizing the importance of educational and economic mobility and the role of workforce needs in driving these efforts. The ultimate goal is to make innovative agreements the norm within community colleges and state systems of higher education, offering students and employers greater transparency and opportunities for higher-level credentials.