Advancing Quality Community College Workforce Programs: Announcing the New Models for Career Preparation Cohort

Announcing New America's 2021 New Models for Career Preparation Cohort: Six community colleges with quality non-degree workforce programs that lead to quality jobs and careers.
Blog Post
May 3, 2021

Now more than ever we need new models for career preparation. The pandemic eliminated millions of jobs, hurting women and people of color the most, and the impacts are going to be long lasting.

The economy is finally steadily improving as more than two million Americans are being vaccinated daily. The most recent Department of Labor reports have indicated that jobs are coming back, and hiring is on the rise.

That’s good news – but just as the impact of the pandemic was uneven across society, the recovery is also shaping up to exacerbate inequity in America. We must do something about it. And one way is through access to high quality postsecondary education and training that help people secure good jobs and career paths.

There are quality jobs that don’t require a college degree, and community and technical colleges offer quality non-degree programs to help people get them.

Community and technical college are engines of economic opportunity. But unlike in past recessions, community college enrollment is down, and employers are rightfully concerned. The enrollment decline is also threatening to exacerbate inequity and the U.S. recovery since community colleges serve some of the most underserved students.

Now more than ever, people want shorter, more affordable non-degree training—demand for these programs outpaces demand for traditional degree programs. Employers, eager to fill jobs, have even started offering non-degree credentials themselves.

The problem is quality. New America research has shown that many of these non-degree programs lead to no jobs or poverty-wage jobs, especially for women and Black, Latino, and Indengious people of color.

We need better information about how community and technical colleges can design quality non-degree programs to attract, retain, and guide students into quality jobs.

While a college degree from a reputable, affordable institution in an in-demand program of study is still the best ticket to the middle class, non-degree programs offered by community colleges, if designed well, can offer upward mobility for those who need it the most.

To help colleges advance quality non-degree programs, we are launching the New Models for Career Preparation National Cohort.

Last month, we announced a new Lumina Foundation-sponsored initiative called New Models for Career Preparation to better understand the design principles that go into creating high-quality non-degree workforce programs at community colleges.

“Non-degree, short-term workforce programs” include the complex set of programs offered in between a high school diploma and an associate's degree including for-credit and not-for-credit certificates, badges, industry certification and occupational license preparation programs, apprenticeships, bootcamps, short courses and workshops, customized training, and other forms of career and technical education.

If of quality, non-degree short-term programs can help more Americans secure quality existing jobs and emerging jobs of the future.

There are many ways to think about quality non-degree workforce programs. We reviewed the literature on program quality and met with hundreds of college, employer, policy, and economic development leaders and researchers to identify five non-degree workforce program quality criteria:

  • Labor market outcomes: There is evidence that the credential leads directly to an in-demand, high-quality job that provides at least the local living wage.
  • Equity: The program’s graduates demographically resemble or include more underrepresented groups compared to the occupation as a whole in your region.
  • Stackability: The credential lends itself to life-long learning by providing the student with credit that can count towards a future advanced credential or college degree.
  • Affordability: The program is affordable resulting in a reasonable average student debt load and/or accompanied with financial aid eligibility (Pell or other federal, state, employer financial aid and/or learn-and-earn opportunities).
  • Completion: The program has a respectable completion rate and pass rate for occupational licensure or industry certification exams (if applicable).

Introducing New America’s New Models for Career Preparation National Cohort

To support our research on the design, financing, and partnership principles colleges need to create quality non-degree programs, we are proud to launch a national cohort of community colleges each with unique quality programs.

  • Brazosport College’s Jump Start Occupational Skills Award. Free to students, the average participant in the pipefitting & electrical occupational skills award earns about $9 an hour before the program and about $24 after Jump Start.
  • Bates Technical College-AJAC Apprenticeship Program. This multiple-pathway apprenticeship program gives students college credit and connects them with good paying machinist and industrial maintenance jobs.
  • Mesa Community College’s Harness Wiring Bootcamp. In only 36 instruction hours over 9 days, students earn an industry certification and three credit hours, which can count towards a certificate or associate's degree at Mesa. Bootcamp graduates who are at least 18 and can pass background checks are eligible for an interview with Boeing on-site at Mesa Community College.
  • Monroe Community College’s Certified Nursing Assistant program. Monroe worked with employers to pay nursing assistants a salary as they participated in the program and an increase in starting wages as soon as they complete the program. They are also designing a supported LPN program for their cohorts to continue to advance in their chosen profession.
  • Miami Dade College’s Tesla START program. This 15-week intensive program prepares students for service technician roles with Tesla. Students are paid a stipend while participating in the program and earn a Career Technical Certificate from the College and a certificate of completion from Tesla.
  • Dallas College’s Cisco Certified Networking Associate Program. Graduates earn an entry wage of $21 dollars an hour and after three extra classes can earn Cisco Certified Networking Professional Certification and with it another $16 thousand a year in salary.

Over the coming year, we will work with this group to “reverse engineer” their programs and identify concrete institutional and policy strategies to create new models for career preparation.

Interested in staying up to date with New America's New Models for Career Preparation project? Subscribe to the Center on Education and Labor's newsletter the Ed & Labor Bulletin and follow us on Twitter @IrisonHigherEd and @ShalinJyotishi.