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Many people have long viewed education and training that don’t count for college credit as moneymaking services that colleges and universities provide outside of their ivory walls.
You can find these courses in the back alleys and hovels of the higher education hierarchy. College and university leaders stride by, often content to glimpse noncredit-bearing courses and programs from the corners of their eyes.
But it is past time they give these courses and programs greater weight, and to make this a reality, we need to know more. A lot more.
From what we know, noncredit courses and programs are focused mainly on preparing students for jobs. They can help adults demonstrate knowledge and skills required by local employers. Some serve workforce needs by allowing colleges to align new offerings to meet the shifting labor market demand of local businesses and industries. And others provide learning adults can apply towards college degrees or short-term credentials.
College leaders, and those who make policies that affect students, are not even sure of the extent of noncredit education and training. That’s because the federal government has never bothered to collect data about it systematically.
Last fall, RTI International, a nonprofit research institute that does work on behalf of the federal government, hosted a technical review panel. The panel’s purpose was to discuss opportunities for improving the usefulness of federal education data. On the table was a proposal to collect more information about noncredit enrollment and activities while also taking into account the burden on institutions that must regularly report to the U.S. Department of Education.
For the uninitiated, IPEDS is the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System run by the National Center for Education Statistics, a unit within the Education Department. IPEDS is the primary source for information about U.S. colleges, universities, and technical and vocational institutions; its existence allows us to make informed decisions on behalf of today’s students.
In my new role with Lumina Foundation, I have offered comments on the technical review panel summary. Here’s what stands out to me:
The COVID pandemic has highlighted a dire need to help Americans train—and retrain—for today’s jobs. It is imperative that we take a moment to look at noncredit courses and programs directly. We need to understand better what these courses can contribute to individual social mobility and our collective prosperity.Back to News