Community colleges in the United States serve an estimated 5,000,000 students in noncredit continuing education, and demand is expected to grow. Community college noncredit programs are ideal for providing skill upgrades and job retraining to the multitudes of workers displaced by the current recession.
Community colleges need to demonstrate that they are meeting or exceeding performance goals using measures that allow accurate evaluation of programs based on nationally recognized standards. Currently, there is no standard national measurement of the educational and economic benefits of noncredit courses, so they are not systematically evaluated. The lack of relevant and appropriate measures leaves vast holes in policymakers’ understanding of the scope, impact, and effectiveness of the work of community colleges.
As an urgently needed first step, this paper makes the case for the training hour as the basic unit of measurement for noncredit programs, and it proposes a taxonomy to classify and describe the range of noncredit activities delivered by community colleges based on three levels of outcomes.