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Community Colleges See Need to Make Upskilling Easier, Cheaper

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021   

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A new survey of community colleges and technical schools in the United States shows their courses and programs that promote job skills are gaining in popularity.

The survey found 35% of students are taking non-credit courses that lead to industry certifications and credentials, instead of strictly academic courses designed to transfer to a four-year school.

"Community colleges educate more people than coding boot camps, apprenticeship programs and government job training combined," said Tamar Jacoby, president of the nonprofit Opportunity America, which did the survey.

According to the survey, of the nation's 10.5 million community-college students, 3.7 million adults are enrolled in non-credit programs, and about three-quarters are older than 25.

Many students in non-credit programs later decide to pursue four-year degrees, but the survey found only 20% of community colleges allow students to leverage their non-credit learning for college credit, either "most" or "all" of the time. Texas' Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller said that needs to change.

"Let's make those credentials more readily convertible to the credit side," he said, "so these short-term credentials can be 'stackable,' on the way to other kinds of degrees and credentials."

Of the colleges surveyed, many said cost is the biggest barrier for adults going back to school. Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, said her state has a program known as "Fast Forward," which subsidizes two-thirds of the cost for students in certain non-credit courses. She said she thinks it could serve as a national model.

"Fast Forward is a way for the state to incentivize community colleges to offer these in-demand, non-credit pathways that lead to industry-recognized credentials," she said.

The survey also looked at the partnerships community colleges form with local employers - and found only about 36% of employer partners offer workplace-based learning opportunities.

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Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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