There is no time to waste. We must accelerate new, quality models for career preparation.

Blog Post
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Upspalsh
Feb. 24, 2021

Over the past decade, millions of Americans without a college degree emerged from the Great Recession in jobs that were low-wage, insecure, and lacked benefits like paid leave. COVID-19 made matters worse.

People who were in these tenuous jobs -- the very same jobs we call “essential” -- were especially hurt by massive layoffs resulting from the shock of the pandemic. Everyone is hurting, but unemployment for someone with only a high school diploma or some college experience is almost twice that of a person with a bachelor's degree or higher. And things are even worse for women and people of color.

This inequity is unacceptable.

We have entered a time where everyone needs some form of postsecondary education to make a decent living, but not everyone can earn a degree right away. We need faster, more affordable, and employer-aligned pathways for more Americans to find their way into high-quality jobs.

Non-degree programs at community colleges can be important to economic recovery if they are integrated into high-quality career pathways. New models for career preparation are needed to move the nation forward.

New models for career preparation can address crippling racial inequality

The divide between college “haves” and “have nots” is particularly true for Black adults in the United States. Currently, only 21 percent of Black and 15 percent of Latinx adults attain a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 34 percent of whites and 54 percent of Asian-Americans. Our country is plagued by deep and long-standing racial inequities that, in turn, perpetuate gaps in economic and social well-being among groups.

Flexible, affordable, work-oriented non-degree programs at community colleges can result in immediate labor market and more equitable returns, while also contributing to career pathways that lead to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

New models for career preparation can help women hedge pandemic-related equity losses

Our labor market is also remarkably unfair towards women, despite the fact that women outnumber men at all levels of education after high school. Women are paid less and underemployed more frequently than men whether they earn degrees or non-degree credentials. Women were also disproportionately impacted by pandemic-related job loss which will have significant implications for families.

Non-degree programs are shorter and more flexible than traditional college curricula, which makes them attractive to women with caregiving responsibilities who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Most non-degree programs are also more affordable than college credit classes, enabling individuals who wouldn’t or couldn’t consider college the opportunity to enroll. Research on federal grants supporting non-degree programs reveal non-degree programs that extend six months or more and award college credit yield a significant economic pay-off for adult learners, and they may also give students a sound footing to continue on to attain college degrees.

A Solution: High-quality non-degree community college programs

We need a better way for people--particularly women and people of color--who don’t have bachelor’s or associate’s degrees to access stable, well-paying jobs emerging from this economic crisis. Non-degree education and training programs, particularly at community colleges, offer an immediate solution to the long-term challenges brought on by Covid-19. Community colleges already serve the majority of low-income, people of color in higher education and 40 percent of all undergraduates are community college students. Community colleges also have a long history of strong employer partnerships that meet regional workforce needs, while also offering programs of study that lead to college degrees with greater labor-market pay-offs.

Americans, especially adult learners, say they need access to non-degree credentials now more than ever. There is evidence that the pandemic may have accelerated digitization and automation leading to a need for more workers to upskill. Recent polling has shown that among those who are looking to pursue higher education, 68 percent prefer non-degree pathways now compared to 50 percent pre-COVID-19. High-quality pathways that integrate non-degree programs at community colleges may play an important role in helping more Americans find employment in high-quality jobs.

Introducing the Initiative on New Models for Career Preparation at the Center on Education and Labor at New America

To that end, we have launched a new initiative called New Models for Career Preparation to better understand how community colleges--with the support of public policy--can build quality, non-degree programs.

Next month, we will be launching a diverse, national cohort of quality non-degree programs that will allow us to “reverse engineer” and unpack design principles, effective practices, and scalable elements that make these programs work so well. With our partners at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, we will provide technical assistance and a deeper understanding of how colleges can sustainably finance quality non-degree programs.

We will also design and advance federal, state, and local policy recommendations as well as how colleges can work with public and private partners to improve regional job quality.

All of this work will be guided by an impressive, diverse group of advisors comprised of leaders from colleges, employer groups, labor unions, the research community, and beyond.

New Models for Career Preparation Advisory Committee:

  • Debra Bragg, Fellow, Center on Education and Labor at New America and President of Bragg and Associates
  • Amanda Cage, President & CEO, National Fund
  • Anthony Caison Sr., Vice President for Workforce Continuing Education, Wake Technical Community College
  • Pam Eddinger, President, Bunker Hill Community College,
  • Rey Garcia, Professor, University of Maryland Global Campus
  • Greg Haile, President, Broward College
  • Rebecca Hanson, Executive Director, SEIU-UHW & Joint Employer Education Fund
  • Amy Kardel, Vice President for Strategic Workforce Partnerships, CompTIA
  • Annette Parker, President, South Central College
  • Bill Pink, President, Grand Rapids Community College
  • Paul Pulido, Interim Executive Director, South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z)
  • Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development and Strategic Partnerships, Pima Community College
  • Abby Snay, Deputy Secretary of the Future of Work, California Labor & Workforce Development Agency
  • Karen Stout, President & CEO, Achieving the Dream

Interested in staying up to date with this project? Have quality non-degree programs we should explore or ideas we should unpack? Subscribe to CELNA’s newsletter the Ed & Labor Bulletin and follow us on Twitter @NewAmericaEd, @IrisonHigherEd, and @ShalinJyotishi.

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Related Topics
Workforce Development & CTE