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THE PROMISE OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES

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.

WHO ARE NONCREDIT STUDENTS?

3.7 million

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

Distinct

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

Agile

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

20%

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.’

WHO PAYS FOR NONCREDIT WORKFORCE EDUCATION?

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.

LEARN MORE

Employers and industry certifications
Students and programs

(interactive state comparisons)

Public policy

(interactive state comparisons)

ABOUT THE SURVEY

INVITED TO PARTICIPATE: Administrators at 1,259 public two-year institutions
QUESTIONS: 57 multiple-choice and open-ended questions
IN THE FIELD: Mid-October 2020 to March 2021
RESPONSE RATE: 38 percent

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