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Quantifying Non-Completion Pathways to Success

The national push for completion of degrees, certificates, and transfer to four-year institutions has helped to focus community colleges on measurable goals. However, this emphasis on completion does not fully capture community college outcomes, particularly in job training.

While some workforce-related results are measured by community college credentials, a significant portion of workforce development occurs outside of the completion framework. For example, completion metrics do not include placement in apprenticeship programs, attaining an industry certification or professional license, or participation in single courses that allow students to upgrade skills.

WestEd is partnering with Associate Professor Peter Riley Bahr of the University of Michigan to shed light on non-completion outcomes. By examining course-taking patterns, Bahr found that nearly one in seven California community college students are taking only a handful of courses in discrete, job-related fields—such as engineering and industrial technology or public and protective services—and that many of these students are attaining significant wage gains.

WestEd is also engaging in qualitative research, funded by LearningWorks, to better understand “skills-builders” pathways at 10 colleges, as well as creating discussion guides and collaborating with practitioner-based organizations to start conversations about the implications of this research. For example, the authors partnered with the RP Group to develop resources that can help practitioners apply Bahr’s research to college investigations of course-taking patterns.

Community College Success: Want to Find Out More?

Click on Related Resources on the right side of the screen to download resources written by Peter Riley Bahr and WestEd researcher Kathy Booth and published in partnership with LearningWorks:

  • The Ones That Got Away: Why Completing a College Degree Is Not the Only Way to Succeed draws on numerous studies to explore alternative approaches to measuring how well community colleges serve career and technical education students.
  • The Missing Piece: Quantifying Non-Completion Pathways to Success describes the types of courses skills-builders take, their earnings gains, and implications for measuring student success, as well as providing questions that could be used to discuss the research.

Visit the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy website to access:

  • A four-minute video featuring Kathy Booth explaining why including factors such as wage gain, employment retention, and third-party certification would better capture the full range of career and technical education outcomes
  • An eight-minute video featuring Booth examining the multiple types of workforce training offered by community colleges and their associated earnings gains, as a means of documenting the value of both short-term and long-term education pathways
  • Four-page discussion guides, tailored to various constituencies—including career technical education directors, faculty, college leaders, and policymakers—for ideas on how to structure conversations around the videos and possible actions to take

Download a recorded webinar that was hosted by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD).

Access earlier work on course-taking patterns in California community colleges on the LearningWorks and RP Group websites. These resources include:

  • The “What’s Completion Got to Do with It?” inquiry guide, written by Bahr and Booth, applies the cluster analysis to the current conversation on improving completion outcomes and includes a series of questions that could be used to discuss the research.
  • A recorded webinar, featuring Booth and Rock Pfotenhauer, Cabrillo College Dean of Career Education & Economic Development, summarizes the cluster analysis and offers practitioner perspectives on the value of short-term course-taking.
  • The “Segmentation Model for Assessing Course-Taking Patterns” document, created by Bahr and RP Group researcher Terrence Willett, provides a simplified rule set to sort students into the classifications identified by Bahr. This document also includes sample discussion questions on how to use these results to build a deeper understanding of student course-taking behavior and its relationship to student success.
  • A companion piece, “Plain Text Code for Segmentation Study,” provides text that could easily be cut-and-pasted into statistical software to run the simplified rule set.

Read Bahr’s research studies including:

  • The labor market return in earnings to community college credits and credentials in California
  • What we don’t know about community college students: The case for a better understanding of student pathways
  • The bird’s eye view of community colleges: A behavioral typology of first-time students based on cluster analytic classification