Three Key Findings About Online Occupational Education in Community Colleges

Online course offerings are a major part of community colleges’ workforce development efforts. These courses are key in providing access for people who need job training, but cannot attend traditional face-to-face programs either because the program isn’t offered in their geographic area or because of work/family commitments.

Some community and technical colleges offer more online programs than others. Additionally, some programs, like office systems, are offered widely on many campuses, while others like manufacturing technology are less prevalent. One part of the Online Workforce Development Project which I lead sought to understand the reasons behind these variances.  The project examined the connection between institutional, economic, and social indicators that influence (a) the prevalence of online occupational programs and (b) the connection of those programs to state workforce development needs.

The project was the first national study categorizing online occupational programs according to the Career Clusters and Career Pathways classification scheme. The study was based on a random sample of 321 institutions in the United States.

Key findings include:

  • Although past research has shown that most institutions offer online occupational courses, only 47.5% of colleges in the sample offered credit-granting online occupational programs.
  • Despite research finding that skill-based programs requiring manipulative skill development can be successfully taught online in hybrid or blended formats, few such programs actually exist.
  • Occupational program development is not driven by statewide economic indicators, such as the state’s fastest growing occupations, suggesting a moderate responsiveness to states’ workforce development needs in developing online programming.

I recently published an article on this research with Timothy Sauer, Fashaad Crawford, and Kristin Wilson in Career and Technical Education Research. The paper is available by clicking here.

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