Noncredit Workforce Training at Community Colleges: Participant Composition and Academic Success

By: Di Xu, Sabrina Solanki, Kelli Bird, Michael Cooper, Benjamin Castleman


With rapid technological advances, the labor market increasingly exhibits a need for more frequent, ongoing skill development. Indeed, employers in many fields encounter difficulties finding adequately trained workers to satisfy their labor demand. Community college noncredit Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs play an essential role in workforce development by providing workers with the skills they need to compete for high-demand positions within a short span of time. These noncredit offerings are typically skill-based training programs designed to lead to a specific occupation, such as commercial truck-driving, welding, or nursing assistance. According to a recent report by the American Association of Community Colleges (2018), approximately five million noncredit students enrolled in community colleges nationally, which represents 41 percent of total enrollment at two-year institutions. 

Despite the indispensable role of noncredit CTE programs in the national economic landscape, we know very little about the composition of students who participate in these programs, the rates at which students complete programs and earn workforce-relevant credentials, and whether CTE program participation leads to subsequent education and training or improved workforce outcomes. This policy brief presents initial findings from a comprehensive study being undertaken to examine noncredit CTE programs offered within the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). In 2016, the Virginia legislature, through HB66, passed legislation to expand participation in community college noncredit CTE programs. These programs are commonly known in Virginia as “FastForward” programs. In this policy brief, we focus on our analyses related to participant composition, program success, and the relationship between non-credit and credit enrollment. In future briefs, we will present evidence about the labor market impacts of FastForward participation and the impact of Virginia’s unique pay for performance model for funding noncredit CTE programs.