IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Teaching 21st Century Skills to Community College Students: An Innovative Approach Under Development in California

As part of our series recognizing Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, we interviewed Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDRC, about her recently funded study, Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Community Colleges: A Study of the New World of Work Program (NWoW). This project is developing and testing an innovative program aimed at teaching 21st century skills to community college students in CTE courses. Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are working closely together to improve upon NWoW, which is already in use in several community colleges in California.

What are 21st century skills, and why are they important?

There is growing consensus among researchers, practitioners, and employers that 21st century skills–e.g., adaptability, analytic mindset, collaboration, and communication–are essential for success in both school and in the modern workplace. We believe that postsecondary programs need to incorporate strategies to ensure that students graduate with these skills.

Why are you (personally) excited about this work?

About two years ago, I was interviewing community college students in California about their experiences when a young man walked into the room. The first thing I noticed were his tattoos, which covered every inch of his exposed skin. The next thing I noticed was how he strode over to me, stretched out his hand to shake mine with a firm grip, looked me in the eye, smiled warmly and introduced himself. Having interviewed hundreds of community college students for other research projects, I had rarely – if ever – encountered this level of self-assurance, respectful courtesy, and ability to immediately adapt and respond to an unfamiliar person with an unfamiliar purpose.

The young man told me that he had been incarcerated as a teen for gang involvement, and, after being discharged from prison, he couldn’t find work. With few other options, he enrolled in the diesel technology program at his local community college, but this was not an ordinary CTE program. It included NWoW.

Through NWoW, he learned 21st century skills in the context of learning diesel technology skills and had worksite experiences to practice both. He told me that this part of his education “changed his life.” He did so well in a job interview at a food processing equipment manufacturer that he was not only hired, but quickly promoted to a management position. At the time we met, he was to receive company training and another promotion, but he still planned on earning his certificate. After that, he planned on applying to a state university to pursue a BA or a master’s degree.

The young man credited his professional success to NWoW, where he learned behaviors and skills no one else had taught him. It is exciting to be a part of developing and testing a program that may affect the lives of adult students in such ways.

How did NWoW come into being?

In 2015, faculty at a community college in California noticed the deficiencies in students’ soft skills and developed a 21st century skills curriculum to use in their classes. They added a work-based learning and an assessment component a short time later. Soon thereafter, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office noticed their work and gave them support to further develop the program and take it to more colleges. 

What are the core components of the NWoW program?

NWoW is designed to promote growth in 10 skills and has 3 core components, all 3 of which will undergo an iterative development process in the next 2 years:

  1. A curriculum designed to be embedded in CTE community college courses;
  2. A work-based learning component to allow students practice the skills in an authentic work setting; and
  3. An assessment/credentialing component allowing students to earn a “digital badge” in each of the 10 skills.

What is your research goal?

Our goal is to work with instructors (including the original program designers), employers, and other partners to further refine and enhance this program. Moreover, we hope to address important questions in the field about whether or how such skills can be taught and learned in the classroom, how to measure them, and how to signal competency to employers and others. 

Who else is involved?

MDRC is working with the NWoW team and its partners, including the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges, LinkedIn, and badgr. The development work is ongoing with three community colleges, and we will then test the improved version in a new set of colleges.

By Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDR​C, interviewed by Meredith Larson, NCER

 

Where Are They Now? Following up with High School Ninth-Graders Seven Years Later

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Elise Christopher

Seventy-two percent of all fall 2009 ninth-graders had enrolled in postsecondary education by February 2016, about 3 years after most students had completed high school. Among these students who enrolled in postsecondary education, the majority (82 percent) had enrolled within 4 months of leaving high school. These findings come from the most recent wave
of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). HSLS:09 follows a nationally representative sample of students who were ninth-graders in fall 2009 from the beginning of high school into higher education and the workforce. 

Among all 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education by February 2016, about 36 percent first enrolled at a public 2-year college, 41 percent at a public 4-year college, 16 percent at a private nonprofit 4-year college, and the remainder (7 percent) attended a for-profit or other type of institution.

A higher percentage of females (77 percent) than males (68 percent) had enrolled in any postsecondary education by February 2016. Additionally, a higher percentage of Asian students (88 percent) had enrolled in postsecondary education than students of all other racial/ethnic groups shown. The percentage of enrollees was also higher for White students (76 percent) than for Black students (65 percent), Hispanic students (68 percent), and students of Other or Two or more races (69 percent).


Percentage of fall 2009 ninth-graders enrolled in postsecondary education as of February 2016, by race/ethnicity: 2016

NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-Up: A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders in 2016.


Twenty-two percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education after high school had not attained a postsecondary credential but were no longer enrolled as of February 2016. When asked to select one or more reasons for leaving postsecondary education without earning a credential, 48 percent selected personal or family reasons, 40 percent picked financial reasons, 24 percent chose academic reasons, 22 percent chose work-related reasons, and 9 percent chose none of these.

The data collected in this 2016 follow-up collection allow researchers to examine an array of outcomes among fall 2009 ninth-graders, including delayed high school completion, postsecondary enrollment, early postsecondary persistence and attainment, labor market experiences, family formation, and family financial support. Analyses of these outcomes can capitalize on data already gathered about the students in fall 2009, in spring 2012 (when most were 11th-graders), and in summer and fall 2013 (when most had completed high school). HSLS:09 is also collecting students’ postsecondary financial aid records and postsecondary transcripts in 2017 and 2018. A First Look report and data from these documents are scheduled for release in 2019.

Data for the second follow-up are available in several formats. Restricted-use data are currently available for analysis using the PowerStats and QuickStats tools in the DataLab suite. Public-use microdata are available for download via the Online Codebook

Differences in Postsecondary Persistence by Student and School Characteristics

By Cris de Brey

About 70 percent of first-time postsecondary students who started at 2-year or 4-year colleges in 2011-12 were either still enrolled or had attained a degree or certificate three years later. But a recent spotlight in the Condition of Education shows that there are differences in postsecondary persistence based on the type of institution attended and student demographics. 

Given the economic and employment benefits of postsecondary education, it’s important that students who enroll in postsecondary education persist to degree completion. Persistent students are those that were enrolled at any institution or had attained a degree or certificate 3 years after first enrolling. The spotlight uses data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study and focuses on differences in persistence rates by demographic and college or university characteristics.

In spring 2014, the persistence rate for students who began at 2-year institutions in 2011–12 was 23 percentage points lower than for students who began at 4-year institutions (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Persistence rates of first-time postsecondary students who began at 2- and 4-year institutions during the 2011–12 academic year, by race/ethnicity: Spring 2014

NOTE: Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Students who first enrolled during the 2011–12 academic year are considered to have persisted if they were enrolled at any institution in Spring 2014 or had attained a degree or certificate by that time.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14). See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 326.50.


A gap between persistence rates at 2- and 4-year institutions was also observed for students who were White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and of Two or more races. The difference in persistence rates between students who began at 2- and 4-year institutions ranged from 19 percentage points for Hispanic students to 25 percentage points for White students and Asian students.

Among students who began at 4-year institutions, Asian students had a higher persistence rate as of spring 2014 than White students. Both Asian and White students had a higher persistence rate than Hispanic, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native students.

Looking at age differences, the persistence rate for students who were 19 years old or younger was higher than the rates for older students who began at both 2-year and 4-year institutions (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Persistence rates of first-time postsecondary students who began at 2- and 4-year institutions during the 2011–12 academic year, by age when first enrolled: Spring 2014

NOTE: Students who first enrolled during the 2011–12 academic year are considered to have persisted if they were enrolled at any institution in Spring 2014 or had attained a degree or certificate by that time.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14). See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 326.50.


There was no measurable difference between the persistence rates for the oldest three age groups who began at either type of institution.

The persistence rate for students 19 years old or younger who began at 2-year institutions was 24 percentage points lower than the rate for their same-aged peers who began at 4-year institutions. Unlike the youngest students, there were no measurable differences in persistence rates by level of institution for students who began their postsecondary education when they were 20 to 23 years old, 24 to 29 years old, and 30 years old or over.

For more information on postsecondary persistence rates, see the full spotlight on this topic in the Condition of Education. 

Expanding Student Success Rates to Reflect Today’s College Students

By Gigi Jones

Since the 1990s, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has collected and published graduation rates for colleges and universities around the country. These rates were based on traditional college students—first-time, full-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students (FTFT) who, generally, enrolled right after high school.

While these data are insightful, some have argued the FTFT graduation rate only provides a part of the picture because it doesn’t consider non-traditional students, including those who are part-time students and transfers. This is an important point because, over the past decade, the number of non-traditional students has outpaced the increase in traditional students, mostly driven by growth in those who have transferred schools.  

The new IPEDS Outcome Measures survey was designed to help answer these changes. Starting with the 2015-16 collection cycle, entering students at more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions must be reported in one of four buckets, also called cohorts (see Figure below).

The FTFT cohort is similar to what has been collected since the 1990s, but the Outcome Measures adds three new student groups to the equation: 

  • First-time, part-time students (FTPT), who attend less than a full-time credit workload each term (typically less than 12-credits) and who have no prior postsecondary attendance; 
  • Non-first-time students, also known as transfer-in students, who are enrolled at a full-time level (NFTFT); and
  • Non-first-time students, also known as transfer-in students, who are enrolled at a part-time level (NFTPT).

For these four cohorts, postsecondary institutions report the awards conferred at two points of time after the students entered the institution: 6 years and 8 years. If students did not receive an award, then institutions must report their enrollment status one of three ways: 1) Still enrolled at the same institution; 2) Transferred out of the institution; or 3) Enrollment status is unknown.

These changes help respond to those who feel that the FTFT graduation rates do not reflect the larger student population, in particular public 2-year colleges that serve a larger, non-traditional college student population. Since 2008, steps have been taken to construct and refine the data collection of non-traditional college students through a committee of higher education experts (PDF) and public Technical Review Panels (see summaries for panels 37, 40 and 45).

The 2016-17 preliminary Outcome Measures data were released on October 12, as part of a larger report on IPEDS winter data collection. The data for individual schools can be found on our College Navigator site.  The final data for 2015-16 will be released in early 2018. Sign up for the IES News Flash to be notified when the new data are released or follow IPEDS on Twitter. You can also visit the IPEDS Outcome Measures website for more information. 

While this is an important step in the process, we are continuing to improve the data collection process. Starting with the 2017-18 Outcome Measures collection, the survey includes more groups (i.e., Pell Grant v. Non-Pell Grant recipients), a third award status point (4-years after entry), and the identification of the type of award (i.e., certificates, Associate’s, and Bachelor’s). Watch for the release of these data in fall 2018. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated on October 12 to reflect the release of Outcome Measures data.

What Are the Payoffs to College Degrees, Credentials, and Credits?

The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) is an IES-funded Research and Development Center that seeks to advance knowledge regarding the link between postsecondary education and the labor market. CAPSEE was funded through a 2011 grant from the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and is in the process of completing its work. CAPSEE will hold a final conference to discuss its findings on April 6 & 7 in Washington, DC.

Recently, Tom Bailey (pictured), Director of the Community College Research Center, Columbia University, Teachers College, and the Principal Investigator for CAPSEE, answered questions from James Benson, the NCER Program Officer for the R & D center.

Can you describe some of the original goals of CAPSEE?

We were especially interested in the economic benefits of a college education for community college students, including those who complete awards (Associate’s degrees or certificates) and those who do not, as well as those who transfer to four-year colleges. We were also interested in differences in earnings by field of study. When we started CAPSEE in 2012 there were a lot of studies that used survey datasets to look, in general, at the returns to completing a Bachelor’s degree. The CAPSEE approach was to use large-scale statewide databases and follow college students over time, to look in detail at their earnings before, during, and after college.

In addition, CAPSEE researchers sought to examine two key policy issues. One was how financial aid and working while enrolled affect students’ performance in college and their labor market outcomes. The other was whether for-profit colleges help students get better jobs.

You have synthesized findings from analyses in six states. What are your main findings?

We found that, in general, Associate’s degrees have good returns in the labor market; they’re a good investment for the individual and for society. However, there is quite a bit of variation in returns by program. For students in Associate degree programs primarily designed to prepare them for transfer to a four-year college, if they don’t transfer, their degrees will not be worth very much. But when they complete vocational degrees, especially in health-related fields, the earnings gains are usually strong and persistent (and robust to how we estimated them). Also, we did a lot of research on certificates, credentials that many see as the best fit for students on the margin of going to college. We found benefits to students who completed certificates, again especially in fields that directly relate to an occupation or industry. And finally, we examined outcomes for students who enrolled and took courses without attaining a degree or certificate. We found that their after-college earnings increased in proportion to the number of credits they earned.

"The fundamental policy implication is that college is a good investment."

What do you see as the key policy implications of these findings?

The fundamental policy implication is that college is a good investment. This merits emphasis because there are repeated critiques of college in terms of how much it costs and how much debt students accumulate. That said policymakers do need to think about the value of each postsecondary program. Even within the same institution, programs have very different outcomes. Yet on average, attending college for longer and attaining more credits has beneficial effects. Policymakers should see this evidence as supporting public and private investments in college.

What did you discover about the relationships between financial aid, college outcomes, and labor market outcomes?

In an era of tight public resources, the effectiveness of financial aid policy is a crucial issue. Financial aid does help students persist in college, but one way to promote greater effectiveness is through academic performance standards for students receiving federal financial aid. These have existed in the federal need-based aid programs for nearly 40 years, in the form of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. These have not received much attention. Our research on SAP suggests such policies have heterogeneous effects on students in the short term: they increase the likelihood that some students will drop out, but appear to motivate higher grades for students who remain enrolled. After three years, however, the negative effects dominate. Though it has little benefit for students in the long term, SAP policy appears to increase the efficiency of aid expenditures because it discourages students who have lower-than-average course completion rates from persisting. But the policy also appears to exacerbate inequality in higher education by pushing out low-performing, low-income students faster than their equally low-performing, higher-income peers.

Many students work while in college.  Does this seem to help or hurt students in the long run?

Our research found that for Federal Work-Study (FWS) participants who would have worked even in the absence of the program, FWS reduces hours worked and improves academic outcomes but has little effect on post-college employment outcomes. For students who would not have worked, the effects are reversed: the program has little effect on graduation, but a positive effect on post-college employment.  Results are more positive for participants at public institutions, who tend to be lower income than participants at private institutions. Our findings suggest that better targeting to low-income and lower-scoring students could improve FWS outcomes. This is consistent with much of the CAPSEE research—you need more detail and specificity to really understand the relationship between education and employment and earnings.

What did you learn about credentials from for-profit institutions?

Our findings on students at for-profit colleges were quite pessimistic. Although enrollment in for-profit colleges grew significantly after 2000, the sector has been declining during the last two years, as evidence on inferior outcomes – particularly with regard to student debt – emerged. In general, our researchers found that for-profit students have worse labor market outcomes than comparable community college students although in some cases the difference is not statistically significant. Our evidence suggests that these colleges need to be monitored to ensure they are delivering a high-quality, efficient education.

You are holding the final CAPSEE conference in April. What do you hope people will get out of it?

At the conference, we will focus on several important and controversial policy questions related to higher education: 

  • Have changes in tuition and the labor market created conditions in which college is not worth it for some students, contributing to an unsupportable increase in student debt? 
  • Has higher education contributed to inequality rather than promoting economic mobility? 
  • Is continued public funding of college a worthwhile investment? 
  • Should public funding be used only for some programs of study?  
  • What are the arguments for and against making community college free?
  • Can changes in the operations and functioning of colleges change the return on investment from a college education for both the individual and society?
  • How important should information on earnings outcomes be for accreditation decisions and/or for eligibility of students to receive financial aid? 

At the conference participants will have the opportunity to discuss and learn about these issues drawing on five years of CAPSEE research as well as input from other experts.