Noncredit Research Collaborative


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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.

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.

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.

Rising interest in shorter-term pathways to good careers drives interest to alternatives to traditional degree programs, fed further by rising costs of higher education and a recognition of the hurdle that completing a degree program poses for many individuals, particularly for adults seeking new opportunities. The alternative pathways found in noncredit education and non-degree credentials offer distinct flexibility and adaptability, which can better meet student and employer needs in quick, affordable formats. At the same time, the recent flood of these new pathways runs the risk that these alternative pathways might perpetuate longstanding unequal outcomes while diverting individuals onto untested paths that the job market does not yet value. Given these broad questions, we must examine and evaluate exactly how these forms of education and credentials may serve the needs of learners, as well as employers and educational institutions.

This brief provides an overview of various noncredit education and non-degree credentials, including basic definitions
and the career goals they seek to further.

This article discusses the significance of Community College noncredit Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in addressing the skills gap in the workforce, a concern that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The article focuses on the state of Virginia, which implemented a pay-for-performance funding mechanism called the New Economy Workforce Grant (WCG) to expand participation in noncredit CTE programs.

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.

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.

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.

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.