Panel Paper: Community Colleges and Workforce Development During the Great Recession: Evidence From California

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 9:45 AM
DuPont (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ann Stevens, Michal Kurlaender and Michel Grosz, University of California, Davis
Community colleges are the primary point of access to higher education for many Americans.  The multiple missions and goals of community colleges have been well documented in the academic literature (Bailey and Smith Morest, 2006; Rosenbaum, 2001; Dougherty, 1994; Grubb, 1991, 1996; Brint and Karabel, 1983).  More recently, community colleges have also captured the attention of policymakers concerned with improving workforce shortages and the overall economic health of the nation.  The Obama Administration identified community colleges as key drivers in the push to increase the stock of college graduates in the U.S. and to raise the skills of the American workforce.

The rising demands for skilled workers necessitate states’ need to strengthen the community colleges to accommodate much of this expansion. Consistent in these efforts is the need for increased offerings of technical certificate programs (Bosworth, 2010; Complete College America, 2011; Public Policy Institute of California, 2010; Holzer and Nightingale, 2009). Growing awareness of the need for post-secondary training beyond traditional academic programs, combined with long-term declines in the real earnings of Americans without college degrees makes it essential to better understand the training potential of vocational education programs in community colleges.

In this paper we investigate the vocational education mission of community colleges, and ask the following three research questions:

(1)   Who participates in workforce development and career technical education (WD-CTE) programs at California’s community colleges?

(2)   What are degree outcomes?

(3)   How responsive have California’s community colleges been to local labor market conditions in the great recession?

Community college workforce education is intended to be directly linked to the needs of the local economy (Van Noy et al., 2008) with programs of study tied to local labor market needs and  conditions (Dougherty, 2003; Harmon, and MacAllum, 2003). Community colleges also play an important role in human capital production for displaced older workers trying to reenter the labor market.  Our data cover the recession of 2008-2009 when there were many job losses and high potential demand for worker retraining.

We utilize individual-level and county-level data from several sources. First, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office has provided both detailed college level data on course type at all 112 community college campuses, as well as individual level data on all enrollees, including courses enrolled, course type, credits attempted, credits completed, grades, certificate or degree received, and a variety of background information from 2001-2011. Second, we use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on employment growth and aggregate wages.  Finally, we use county-level mass layoff data from the BLS mass layoffs statistics program.  These measures of local economic conditions allow us to investigate whether vocational program offerings and associated outcomes may be related to changes in local economies.