Online Occupational Education in Community Colleges: Prevalence, Context, and Organizational Approaches

Project Overview

Principal Investigators

Rod P. Githens
Assistant Professor
University of Louisville
Fashaad Crawford
Assistant Professor
University of Louisville
Kristin Wilson
Assistant Professor
University of Louisville

A growing number of students rely on the access and convenience afforded by online postsecondary education to develop job skills, achieve economic mobility, and increase their contributions to society. Demand for online courses is expected to continue growing. Two-year colleges have quickly become the most dominant providers of online education, and as occupational education continues to adapt to economic and workforce development demands, community colleges will continue to play an important role by providing flexible, low-cost, job-specific, and high quality opportunities for diverse groups of students. Although online education permeates most community colleges, some offer more online programs than others, and programs in some fields are more widely offered than others.

This study examined the current state of online occupational programs in community colleges, the connection between institutional, economic, and social indicators that influence the prevalence of online occupational programs and the connection of those programs to workforce development needs.

Findings indicated that although the number of online occupational education programs available nationwide has reached respectable levels, additional growth is needed in key areas to more fully meet workforce development needs. In order to promote availability and accessibility, coherent online occupational programs, rather than a hodgepodge of online courses, need to be offered. Further, as community college enrollment reaches record levels, online courses provide them with an opportunity to expand enrollment without building new facilities.

Through their workforce development efforts, community colleges are playing a central role in revitalizing the U.S. economy, and the evidence from this study has expanded on theoretical and practical knowledge in the CTE field about workforce development needs, institutional issues, and economic conditions affecting online occupational programs.

Read the latest article by the study's authors in Career and Technical Education Research (September 2012).

Read an article that cites this study, Community College Training for Managing Green Jobs, in the New York Times (August 25, 2010).

Read an article about this study by Rod Githens, Going Green Online: Distance Learning Prepares Students, in the Community College Journal (June/July 2010).