A new survey explores what makes community colleges different from four-year colleges and universities: their surprising student profile, their distinctive mission and their unique potential as drivers of regional economic growth.
As technology and business restructuring transform the workplace, the US faces growing demand for skilled technical workers. In 2020, 30 percent of jobs required some postsecondary education or training but not a four-year college degree.
Community colleges educate more people than coding boot camps, apprenticeship programs and government job training combined ⓘ
Students come to community college pursuing a variety of goals ⓘ
Some community college students seek traditional academic credentials, others do not ⓘ
Most community colleges have a degree-granting ‘credit’ division and a nondegree-granting ‘noncredit’ division. Job-focused education predominates on both sides of the college.
Estimated number of students enrolled in noncredit programs—learners who are not included in federal education data ⓘ
Sometimes called the ‘hidden college,’ the noncredit division brings unique strengths
Not on a semester schedule, offers different programs than the rest of the college
Emphasis on skills
Many students are midcareer adults taking just one or two courses, more interested in learning skills than earning credentials
No need for faculty or accreditor approval, means programs can adapt flexibly to changing labor market demand
The noncredit division helps students meet many different needs ⓘ
Some programs help learners improve basic reading and math skills or prepare for college; others cater to their personal interests. But noncredit education’s signature strength is workforce education.
Job-focused noncredit students are older ⓘ
Job-focused noncredit students are more likely to be white ⓘ
Some noncredit students later return to college to earn degrees ⓘ
Share of colleges that say job-focused noncredit students who later enroll in credit programs can leverage most or all of their noncredit learning for college credit ‘most’ or ‘all’ of the time.
Another 46% say this happens ‘sometimes.’
Pell Grants don’t generally cover the cost of noncredit workforce programs, so students must find other ways to pay. Some states offer financial aid; some learners draw on means-tested federal benefits. But students paying out of pocket and employers carry the lion’s share of the burden. ⓘ
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