Colleges and universities are irrelevant to most current and future workers. Most people who are highly vulnerable to job dislocation have full-time jobs, families, or both. They don’t have the time or money to pursue a bachelor’s degree. They need a shorter, straighter path to higher wages and a better job. The higher education system has responded to this demand with a surge of new job-focused programs.


Short-term credentials are big business in higher education. In the first decade of the millennium, the number of short-term certificates awarded by the nation’s community colleges increased by more than 150 percent. By 2010, 41% of all credentials awarded by community colleges were non-degree certificates. As much as one-quarter of the workforce has a noncredit certificate, license, or another vocational award.

As this report shows, there is great potential for expanding opportunities for such high-quality training. People need a wide range of options for education after high school. Some will follow the traditional college track; many others will not. But the key word is “quality”—education that is affordable, responsive, and built around jobs that employers are ready to provide. Such training done well is hard work and takes time.

And while research points to the need for caution when considering new programs and subsidies, the data also underscore how much we don’t know, particularly when it comes to how programs affect people from different backgrounds. Short-term training programs and credentials have great promise, but only if they’re funded and regulated properly.