A new survey found that community colleges, and especially their noncredit programs, play an outsize role in providing job-focused education.
Opportunity America, a Washington, D.C., think tank focused on economic mobility, explained the survey findings in an accompanying policy report released Tuesday.
The report says community colleges are “poised to come into their own as the nation’s premier provider of job-focused education and training.”
Community and technical colleges educate more people per year than apprenticeship programs, coding boot camps and federal job training programs combined, noted Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America and author of the report. Nonetheless, many people underestimate the value of these institutions.
“They provide an important stepping stone to four-year colleges and universities, but that’s only part of what they do,” she said in a press release, referring to the capacity of community and technical colleges to prepare students directly for the workforce through job-oriented programs.
More than 600 colleges answered at least one of the survey questions, and 477 institutions offered more thorough responses, a 38 percent response rate.
Survey findings show that more than half of the students at community colleges who responded are enrolled in job-focused programs.
The report also argues that community college noncredit education programs in particular demonstrate a “signature strength” in offering workforce education, but policy makers know little about who these students are. The report notes that an estimated 3.7 million students nationwide are enrolled in noncredit programs. More than half of noncredit students, 57 percent, were enrolled in job-focused programs.
About three-quarters of the students enrolled in noncredit workforce programs were age 25 and older, compared to 44 percent of community college students in degree programs. Students in noncredit workforce programs were also more likely to be white relative to those in degree-seeking programs, based on the data available. However, fewer than half of responding colleges had information on the race or ethnicity of students in noncredit workforce training.
The report makes a number of policy recommendations to improve community college workforce education. It recommends policy makers collect more robust data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, on enrollment and student success for noncredit workforce community college programs, among other suggestions.