Magazine article The Catalyst

The Many Roles of Noncredit Workforce Education

Magazine article The Catalyst

The Many Roles of Noncredit Workforce Education

Article excerpt

Postsecondary noncredit education has become increasingly common in recent years, and at many community colleges, noncredit education enrolls more students than credit programs. Much of the growth has occurred in courses connected with workforce instruction and contract training. These programs are noted for their important role in responding to shifting workforce demands and providing skills in a way that is flexible and responsive to employer needs. The growth in community college noncredit workforce education raises fundamental questions about whether the colleges are keeping pace with student and workforce needs, using resources efficiently, and providing access to all students. The answers may challenge current state policies and college practices.

Study Methods

The CCRC study, which was funded by the Sloan Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the National Council for Workforce Education and the National Council for Continuing Education and Training, focused on noncredit workforce instruction and contract training in community colleges. Specifically, it examined a set of questions pertaining to the following: (1) the extent to which noncredit workforce education and state policies play a role in workforce development, provide disadvantaged groups with access to higher education, and generate revenue for the college; (2) the way that colleges organize their noncredit workforce education programs to balance the tradeoffs between the desired flexibility of noncredit education and the integration of noncredit education with credit programs; and (3) the extent to which noncredit workforce education provides students with recorded outcomes, such as transcripts or industry certifications, and the extent to which outcomes data are available.

The study drew on two key sources of information. First, state policies on the funding and regulation of noncredit workforce education were reviewed in all 50 states by interviewing individuals in a variety of state departments with oversight for community colleges and/or workforce development. Second, case studies of 20 community colleges in 10 states were conducted by interviewing key administrative staff at each college. The colleges were selected to reflect innovative practices in noncredit workforce education, as well as a range of institutional sizes, locations, and states.

As a local resource for workforce development, community colleges serve many individuals seeking noncredit workforce education for a variety of reasons and a wide range of industries needing employees at different skill levels. Case study college noncredit students have diverse educational backgrounds and tend to be older and interested in gaining skills. To bring students interested in pursuing a degree into credit programs, the colleges use a variety of program features, such as recruiting noncredit students to credit programs and developing linkages between noncredit and credit programs. To support student enrollment in noncredit, more than half of the states provide general funds for community college noncredit workforce education, which may provide an important indication of the state's vision for noncredit education. More than half the states have guidelines for defining what qualifies as a noncredit workforce course.

In addition to meeting the needs of students, the case study colleges' noncredit programs seek to meet specific employer needs at the state and local level. Some of them have developed flexible ways to offer courses in response to employer demand. Most states provide funds for workforce training and economic development, and just over half specify a direct role for community colleges as fiscal agents or preferred providers.

Community colleges also have a goal of revenue generation for many of their noncredit workforce programs. They are free to charge what the market will bear as few states place limits on the amount they may charge for noncredit workforce courses. …

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