tc columbia

Building Pathways to Success for Low-Skill Adult Students: Lessons for Community College Policy and Practice from a Statewide Longitudinal Tracking Study

By: David Prince & Davis Jenkins

Abstract

This report is based on a first-of-its-kind study of the progress and outcomes of low-skill adults in community colleges. The study uses student record information from the Washington State Community and Technical College System to track two cohorts of adult students 25 or older with at most a high school education who entered one of the state's community or technical colleges for the first time in 1996-97 or 1997-98. The study examines the educational attainment of the students in both cohorts as well as their earnings five years after they enrolled. 

Key findings from this study are: Attending college for at least a year and earning a credential provides a substantial boost in earnings for adults who begin with a high school diploma or less. Short-term training, such as that often provided to welfare recipients, may help individuals get into the labor market, but does not seem to help them advance beyond low-paying jobs. Neither adult basic skills education by itself nor a limited number of college-level courses provides much benefit in terms of earnings.

These findings, which are consistent with previous research, suggest that community and technical colleges ought to make taking at least one year of college-level courses and earning a certificate or other credential a minimum goal for all of the many low-skill adults they serve.