Community College Noncredit Occupational Programming: A Study of State Policies and Funding
Catherine A. Oleksiw
Chloe C. Kremidas
Academy for Educational Development
This study inventoried state policies and regulations on and financial support for noncredit occupational programming offered by community colleges. Information collected from state- and community college-level administrators and Web-based searches is organized by a range of issues related to noncredit occupational programming and funding, such as definitions for noncredit; categories of noncredit courses; development and delivery of programming, including content standards, instructor qualifications, and noncredit-to-credit course transfer; state-level collection of noncredit programming data; state funding mechanisms for noncredit courses; and contract training. The study also lays the groundwork for further research on the impact of community college noncredit programming policies and funding on course availability and accessibility, business and industry partnerships, and reporting mechanisms and data systems for noncredit programming.
- How is noncredit programming defined in the state? How is noncredit programming categorized and how does it differ from credit programming?
- What are the state policies and regulations related to noncredit occupational programming at community colleges?
- What entity or entities (e.g., state agency for economic development, community college board, or individual college) is/are responsible for the planning and development of noncredit programming?
- What entity or entities (e.g., state agency for economic development, community college board) fund(s) community college noncredit occupational programming?
- Through what mechanisms (e.g., FTE student equivalent reimbursement, lump sum grant) are noncredit occupational programs funded at community colleges?
Design and Methodology
State-level and community college representatives responsible for noncredit occupational programming and funding participated in this study. A matrix was developed to inventory each state’s practices related to the development and funding of noncredit occupational courses. Primary areas covered in the matrix were: a) state policies and regulations for community college noncredit occupational programming; b) state policies and mechanisms for funding community college noncredit occupational programming; c) contract or customized training; and d) other nonstate sup¬port. Interviews were conducted using an interview protocol. Due to the difficulty of scheduling interviews with state-level contacts, gaps in the information provided by the state-level interviewees, and lack of state-level interviewees in states without policies or regulations on noncredit occupational programming, community college representatives were also interviewed. At the state level, 55 individuals from 48 states were interviewed. At the community college level, 44 individuals at 37 community or technical colleges in 35 states and the District of Columbia were interviewed.
Categorizing and Defining Noncredit Occupational Programming
States defined and categorized their noncredit programming differently. Many states identified two main categories of noncredit programming: leisure/personal enrichment and occupational/workforce development. In these states, the occupational courses tend to be offered either as contract training or as open enrollment courses. Some states described three main categories of noncredit programming: personal enrichment, workforce development, and contract training. In a number of states, customized or contract training is the only type of noncredit occupational programming offered at community colleges. Duration of programming and duration of approval were often reported as the criteria for noncredit occupational courses. Since the approval process for credit courses is longer and more involved than that of noncredit courses, occupational courses may be first offered as noncredit and then later for credit after they have gone through a curriculum review process.
Development and Delivery of Courses
By and large, noncredit occupational programming is created in response to needs identified either by college personnel in collaboration with business and industry, or solely by business and industry. Most states and colleges are using some kind of formal structure to discern industry needs, ranging from college-instituted advisory boards to collaboration with local economic and workforce development entities. For the most part, content requirements and instructor qualifications are driven by industry standards, although those standards could be determined at the national, state, or local level. In some cases, state or college policies set general requirements for instructors, but the content expertise of the instructors is set either by, or in collaboration with, industry.
Data on Noncredit Occupational Programming
There is little consistency across state data systems with respect to terminology, definitions, and reporting standards regarding noncredit occupational programming. Few states collect the same kind and quality of data even though all community colleges interviewed were engaged in some kind of noncredit occupational programming in which contract or customized training makes up a significant proportion. The range of complexity between systems also compromises the value of any cross-state comparisons. The states that do collect data all collect it differently, within different policy contexts and with different program development and delivery systems.
Funding and Funding Mechanisms
The majority of states provide funding for noncredit occupational programming at community colleges through one or more funding mechanisms. The two most common mechanisms reported are funding formula and state grants for business and industry. The most common nonstate source of funding that states use or have access to is Workforce Investment Act funds. All states reported charging students tuition and/or fees and contracting with business and industry on a fee-for-service basis.
In all of the states interviewed, at least part of community college noncredit occupational programming takes the form of contracting with business and industry to provide training to existing or future employees. In some states, the majority of noncredit occupational programming is contract training, with most states contracting with the health, manufacturing, and information technology/computer industries. Community colleges are often designated as the main venue for and preferred provider of customized training and technical assistance.
Some states have policies and regulations on contract training that encourage quality economic development by providing incentives for the location of new industries or the expansion of existing firms to improve employment opportunities in the state. Other states support and pro-mote skill training, retraining, and upgrade training through their state policies or, more specifically, aim to lead to regional economic growth.
All states contract with business and industry on a fee-for-service basis, with some states offering incentive grants through federal or state sources to help businesses cover the cost of training and to foster economic development. Grant programs may subsidize the training or retraining of a state’s existing or emerging workforce, helping adults gain employability skills or training employers in new technologies. Funding to encourage and support contract training often includes one-to-one matches or matches with private funding sources.
Our most telling findings concerned the range of operational definitions for noncredit programming and for noncredit occupational programming; the existence or absence of policies for development, delivery, and funding; the extent to which different funding mechanisms were used; and the paucity of data easily accessible (if even available) by the states. An apparent constant was the use of contract training in some capacity in every state. In all of this, the community college played a primary role, although many states maintained some degree of oversight, mainly for content standards and course approval. Another key player was the business and industry partner, often but not always through formal agreements due to either by programming or funding policies.
Our findings are organized into three major categories: programming, funding, and data systems.
- Noncredit courses can often be divided into two broad categories: occupational or work-force development courses, and personal enrichment or recreational or avocational courses.
- In most states, almost all community colleges offer noncredit occupational programming. The amount and type of offerings vary by the resources available to fund these courses as well as the geographic location of the college relative to business and industry sites.
- Colleges and business and industry often partner to plan and develop noncredit courses. In some states, the majority of occupational noncredit programming is customized training.
- The specific needs of a particular state drive the development of noncredit courses and the focus of those courses.
- Field experience and industry accreditation are important instructor qualifications. Instructors often have to meet national standards through accrediting bodies.
- Some states institute new occupational courses first as noncredit and then later as credit. Since the noncredit courses do not have a lengthy approval process, they can initially be offered to meet industry demand and then eventually be put through the course approval process to be offered for credit.
- In some states, noncredit courses are not transferable to credit programs. States may offer students the opportunity to test out of a credit program requirement based on their participation in noncredit courses or to earn credit for noncredit courses by taking an assessment. States sometimes award credit for prior learning and experience.
- Noncredit courses and programming not receiving state funding do not have to undergo a formal approval process. Instead, industry content standards and the needs of industry are often used as a basis for developing these courses.
- Some states are in the process of reforming their noncredit system due to increased attention to noncredit occupational programming.
- If state funding is available, it is only for occupational, remedial, and adult basic education courses, not for recreational courses.
- In states where only credit courses receive state funding, it is advantageous for colleges to offer occupational, workforce development courses for credit.
- In some states, noncredit occupational courses are self-sustaining. These courses are market-driven and funded by sources other than the state (tuition and fees, industry, college general fund, etc.).
- A few states offer noncredit occupational courses at no charge or regulate tuition and fees so that these remain low. In states with no state funding for noncredit occupational courses, tuition and fees vary widely.
- Many states do not have a centralized system for gathering and reporting data on noncredit programming.
- Some states have not designed their data gathering systems to differentiate between credit and noncredit courses.
- States that fund noncredit occupational programming tend to collect more data on noncredit courses than states that do not provide funding for these courses.
Several factors affect both the development and funding of noncredit occupational programming: a) historically, every community college competes with the four-year postsecondary institutions for state resources; b) community colleges provide noncredit occupational programming based on local and regional workforce development needs that may not match state priorities or initiatives for workforce development; and c) although community colleges work in partnership with business and industry to provide work-related training, the need for training in specific skills and in more general skills may not be equally met.
In addition, it was strikingly apparent that there is no comprehensive and common reporting system for noncredit occupational programming. Having no information limits sound evidence-based decisions on scope of training, funding for training, and balancing the community college academic and noncredit programs to meet the needs of the local workforce. The National Governors Association (2007) recommends that specific metrics be developed so that states can better understand how well postsecondary education is meeting the skill needs of business and industry. Examples include measures of retention of program graduates in their field or discipline, alumni satisfaction concerning their preparation and readiness for work, and satisfaction of employers with workers having the necessary job skills. “Community colleges need to do a better job both of documenting the impact of their programs on local labor forces and economies, and of publicizing their impact to policymakers and the general public” (Jenkins & Boswell, 2002, p. 9). Looking to next steps, any national data reporting on noncredit programming will require significant federal and state investments to create the systems necessary for data management and analysis.
Key Recommendations for Future Research
Based on the extensive amount of information gathered for this study as well as in-depth discussions with state and community college representatives, different avenues for future research might be considered. Listed below are the key recommendations.
- Assess the overall impact of noncredit workforce development programming on business and industry (in economic terms: more skilled workers, higher salaries, new business, work performance, etc.).
- Research the administrative structures in the development and delivery of content. Create a taxonomy to appropriately analyze the current structures and determine if there are any lessons to be learned from the different structures might inform the field. Are some structures more effective at delivering content? Is there a relationship between state policies and administrative structures that could inform future policy?
- Investigate workplace outcomes of noncredit occupational programming. Do states or colleges collect any wage data to measure value added by the training? Are students advancing in their current jobs or careers in ways that could inform policy initiatives?
- Conduct case studies of states with fully-developed data systems for noncredit occupational programming.
- Research the recruitment of and the selection criteria for students in state-funded contract training programs to provide additional information on the scope and aim of such grant programs.
- Identify funding formula components, their relationship to state appropriations, and their relationship to credit course funding in each state to further understand what role noncredit occupational programming plays in each state.
- Conduct case studies of states to determine best practices: states with state funding, states without state funding, states where the majority of noncredit is customized training, etc. Include interviews with community colleges, business and industry, and employees/students.
- Monitor and evaluate the progress of a state in the process of revamping noncredit occupational programming.
Oleksiw, C. A., Kremidas, C. C., Johnson-Lewis, M., & Lekes, N. (2007, October). Community college noncredit occupational programming: A study of state policies and funding. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.