Simone Yalanty at Ohio’s Lorain County Community College

What a study of Ohio students tells us about the value of short-term credentials

Hello! This week’s issue looks at research on Ohio’s short-term credentials, Fast Track certificates from Lorain County Community College, microinternships and tech equity, and the push for federal workforce development funds. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)


Short-Term and Stackable in Ohio

Ohio is among several states that have encouraged and subsidized short-term credential programs in public higher education. A recent analysis found promising initial results, with wage gains for completers and evidence that students are stacking up multiple credentials, which pays off even better in the job market.

Yet few students who earned a noncredit certificate went on to earn credit-bearing credentials, the report found. And gains in earnings and rates of stackability varied by age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

The report released last month by the RAND Corporation drew from 15 years of data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education. It focused on short-term, stackable credentials in health care, manufacturing and engineering technology, and information technology, fields that accounted for more than half of certificates awarded in the state from 2005 to 2019.

Across the full study’s sample of roughly 28,000 students, those who earned an initial certificate on average had a 16 percent increase in earnings. Those who stacked credentials experienced substantial earnings gains for each credential, RAND found, with an overall gain of 37 percent (or $9,000 in annual wages) from stacking multiple credentials.

For certificate earners who went on to earn additional credentials, average earnings gains were:

  • 46 percent for health care
  • 20 percent for manufacturing and engineering technology
  • 15 percent for IT

Stackability features have expanded in Ohio during the last five years, the research found. And most learners who stacked credentials went on to earn a degree, with 71 percent earning an associate’s degree and 9 percent earning a bachelor’s within four years of completing a certificate.

White students, younger students, and women were more likely to stack credentials. Women and younger students also had higher average earnings gains.

Black and Latino completers had equal or greater wage gains from the initial certificate relative to white completers. But white certificate earners experienced larger earnings gains when they went on to stack credentials, the research found.

Lindsay Daugherty is a senior policy researcher at RAND and one of the report’s coauthors. She shared takeaways for higher education leaders, including how to improve equity in stackable pathways. Daugherty says:

  • “Focus on building pathways that allow students to go on to earn a degree. We found much higher gains when students went on to earn a degree, and the good news is that 80 percent of students who stacked credentials in Ohio did go on to earn a degree.
  • “Only offer and fund programs that demonstrate clear evidence of a labor market need. Many states require institutions to demonstrate labor market need to receive program approval, but this can sometimes be a ‘check the box’ process and could be made more rigorous by making the evidence required uniform, establishing clear standards, and having a critical review process.
  • “Ensure that all students have access to high-return credentials. While Black and Hispanic/Latinx students saw equal or larger gains from short-term credentials, they didn’t go on to see the same gains from stacking. We did not do work in this study to explicitly identify the sources of these disparities, but other work suggests that a lack of proactive information and guidance about pathways and opportunities, selective application processes for high-value credentials (e.g., nursing), and financial constraints can all act as barriers.”

On the Fast Track

Lorain County Community College last year expanded its Fast Track short-term certificates to try to help dislocated workers and other local people who were looking to quickly prepare for new jobs.

The college, which enrolls more than 10,000 students in northern Ohio, now offers about 30 of the certificates in business, IT, health care, and manufacturing, fields that pay decent wages and are expected to expand.

The certificates are tuition-free and can be completed in 16 weeks. Students get a dedicated academic and career coach, hands-on experience, and connections to employers. Each credential stacks into additional certificates or degrees within the field. And corresponding bachelor’s and master’s degrees are available through Lorain County’s partnerships with 14 colleges and universities.

“Fast Track programs give students the power to change their lives in weeks—not years—and they do so with the full support of services available at LCCC,” says Marcia Ballinger, Lorain County’s president.

The college tapped state support for microcredentials, technology training, and short-term certificates to help waive tuition for the program. It also used federal CARES Act and philanthropic dollars, Ballinger says. To participate, students must be dislocated workers or be eligible to receive federal Pell Grants, Medicaid, or other programs aimed at lower-income people. 

Outcomes for Students

Since last fall, 811 students have earned Fast Track credentials. The college said 13 percent of graduates are Latino and 12 percent are Black. Roughly half of completers have continued their education at the college.

Simone Yalanty, 26, was laid off from her job as a machine operator in spring 2020. The state’s department of job and family services directed her to Fast Track. She earned a 16-week online certificate in computer information systems and software development. Yalanty remained enrolled even after her former employer rehired her. She plans to pursue an associate degree.

Gregory Stocker, 46, worked in IT for 20 years before being laid off last year due to the pandemic. He completed a 16-week certificate in software development at Lorain County and went on to graduate in May with an associate of applied business in network communications degree. Stocker will continue his education by pursuing a bachelor’s in computer information systems through the college’s partnership with the University of Akron.

Microinternships and DEI

Veteran higher ed reporter Kathryn Masterson writes this week in Work Shift, tackling the big question: “Can microinternships help more women break into tech?”

It’s a story about how too many women—especially those from working-class, nonwhite backgrounds—get locked out of tech before they even land their first summer internship. Told through the lens of Break Through Tech at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the article examines whether microinternships and other interventions in a student’s first or second year might be able to change that trajectory. And if so, how to design those programs well. Give the story a read over at Work Shift.

Federal Workforce Funding

The Biden administration and the U.S. Congress have not moved forward on proposals for new funding for job training. And although the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal is projected to create jobs, it doesn’t include dedicated money for workforce development and policy.

New America and America Achieves are among 30 groups who last week wrote congressional leaders to urge $100 billion in federal workforce investments—like those proposed by the White House in its jobs plan—amid negotiations over infrastructure and economic recovery legislation.

The groups cited an analysis from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which found that more than half of projected jobs in the infrastructure plan would require some form of short-term training, with the remainder requiring six months to two years of training.

They also pointed to research showing that 90 percent of infrastructure jobs are currently held by men and that people of color typically are excluded from the highest-paying infrastructure roles. 

Kelsey Berkowitz, a senior policy analyst at New America’s Center on Education and Labor, says she’s hopeful that Congress and the White House can make progress on workforce development:

We want to avoid a situation where we invest in infrastructure and don’t address that last-mile question of how we give everyone the ability to obtain those jobs, including people from communities that have historically been marginalized. Employers have a role to play in providing existing workers and new hires with the training needed to fill these jobs, but policy makers have a responsibility to shape those investments alongside our labor and workforce policies, ensuring those job opportunities are available to everyone and that infrastructure investments benefit their communities and the people who live there.

Berkowitz also this week wrote five recommendations for Congress as it considers reauthorizing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

For more on possible federal investments in workforce development, I sent questions to Jon Schnur, CEO of America Achieves, a nonprofit group created in 2010 that focuses on education and skills development. The group also does “long-term incubation” for initiatives focused on underserved learners. Click over to Work Shift to read the Q&A with Schnur.

Open Tabs

Workforce Funding

The National Governors Association last week called for more flexibility with federal workforce programs, as well as “substantial formula funding” and incentives for states to create a unified statewide longitudinal data system. The governors also asked for funding for employer-based short-term credential programs and for “innovative funding options” for learners to pay costs related to completing high-quality job training and work-based learning programs.

Short-Term Credentials

“Black workers need expanded access to high-quality training to quickly get back to work and prepare for jobs that promote economic mobility,” said Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in a Q&A with the National Skills Coalition about why the center—a think tank focused on Black Americans—endorsed short-term Pell. Overton said partnerships between training providers, employers, and unions that feature wraparound services are particularly effective.

“A major limitation of assessing the value of short-term credentials offered by community colleges is a lack of publicly available data on students’ academic success and employment outcomes,” said J. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees, which last week released an assessment of short-term programs offered by community colleges in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Equity and Apprenticeships

JFF has received $13 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand equity and inclusion in registered apprenticeships. The nonprofit said it will provide training and support to employers, providers, and community organizations. Women accounted for just 9.2 percent of all active apprentices last year, JFF said, also noting that Black and Latino apprentices have lower program completion rates than their white peers. Work Shift recently reported on N.C.’s approach to apprenticeships.

Equity and Online Learning

A $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences will fund a new research center focused on inequities in online college learning. SRI Education and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College are creating the center, which will partner with Achieving the Dream and conduct experiments to determine the best approaches with online and hybrid learning, with a plan to create an instructional model and tool kit for colleges.

Hiring and Training

Johnson Controls is spending $15 million over five years to help community colleges expand associate degree and certificate programs in HVAC, building fire and security, and digital building automation systems. The building technology company cited an increased need for skilled trades expertise in coming years. Its employees will volunteer to counsel students and provide real-world experiences.

U.S. Rubber Recycling Inc. cited its move to hire formerly incarcerated people as a competitive advantage. The company, which converts used truck tires into rubber flooring, said its second-chance hiring program fueled a boost in sales and a doubling of its workforce in two years, reported Kevin Smith of the Southern California News Group. “I’m proud of myself,” said Carlos Arceo, a shift supervisor at the company. “This is my first job ever.”

SkillUp’s Take

“Many of SkillUp’s users want a career but still feel as if college is the only way. But given that, and the fact that many users need income now, they choose to forgo college to take suboptimal jobs with no career possibilities. It’s a vicious cycle,” said Steven Lee, executive director of SkillUp, a nonprofit coalition of 60 training and education providers, tech firms, employers, and philanthropies that formed last year to help laid-off and furloughed workers access training and employment. 

Free Community College

The simplicity of the messaging of Tennessee’s free community college program and the focus on mentorship for students have been key to its success, experts told Jenny Gross for The New York Times’ “DealBook” newsletter, which recently looked at whether free community college plans work. “All the different pieces make a student feel seen,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, executive director of tnAchieves.

Student Persistence

U.S. persistence rates for first-year college students dropped by two percentage points last fall (to 73.9 percent), the lowest overall level since 2012, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found. The persistence declines, which were the largest among Latino students, “will ripple through higher education for years,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director.

Let me know what I missed. Catch you next week. —PF @paulfain

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