Noncredit Research Collaborative

Non-Credit Education in Community Colleges: Students, Enrollment Patterns, and Academic Outcomes


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.