Noncredit Research Collaborative

Investigating the Hidden College: A Study of Community College Noncredit Education in Five States


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.