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Research Into Skills-Builder Outcomes

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.

Community College Success: Want to Find Out More?

Learn about how skills-builder data can be integrated into accountability frameworks:

  • “Building More Comprehensive Measures of Workforce Training Success,” 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
  • “How Workforce Pathways Shape College Outcomes and Earnings Gains,” 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

View studies by Peter Riley Bahr and WestEd researcher Kathy Booth and published in partnership with LearningWorks:

  • What’s Completion Got to Do with It? applies a cluster analysis to the current conversation on improving completion outcomes and includes a series of questions that could be used to discuss the research. Inquiry Guide
  • 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. Executive Summary | Full Report
  • 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. Executive Summary | Full Report