Panel Paper: The Role of Stimulus Funding in Increasing and Improving Vocational Training at Community Colleges

Friday, November 9, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Adela Soliz and Walt Ecton, Vanderbilt University

In 2017, community colleges enrolled nearly 40 percent of undergraduates in the United States (NCES, 2017) and approximately half of those students were enrolled in vocational fields of study (Holzer & Baum, 2017). A growing body of evidence suggests that students in vocational programs experience positive economic returns, on average (Bahr et al., 2015; Dadger & Trimble, 2015; Jepsen et al., 2014; Stevens, Kurlaender & Grosz, 2014; Xu & Trimble, 2016; Minaya & Scott-Clayton, 2017), and there is some evidence that engagement with local employers is a key component of “high quality” programs (Maguire et al., 2010; Roder & Elliot, 2014). To help community colleges increase their capacity to train workers in high-growth occupations, Congress authorized the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over four rounds of funding from 2011 to 2014, the US Department of Labor awarded 256 total TAACCCT grants – nearly $2 billion in all – to institutions that used the grant for capacity-building investments such as new equipment, staff, educational space renovation, and new program development.

This study explores the national impact of the TAACCCT program. Though individual colleges receiving funds in the last three years of the program were required to include an evaluation component, it is unclear whether impacts found for individual programs translate to system-wide changes in the capacity of vocational education programs and the extent to which they are relevant to local industry needs. Our study seeks to bridge this gap. Moreover, we address the important question of whether these programs enroll students who wouldn’t otherwise enroll, suggesting that increasing capacity in vocational programs increases college access, or cause students to shift away from academic programs, suggesting that community colleges may be favoring their vocational mission to the detriment of the academic side of these colleges.

Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Data System, American Community Survey, Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, we make use of a differences-in-differences approach in which we leverage variation in timing of grant receipt across institutions receiving awards. We find evidence of positive effects of receiving TAACCCT grants on enrollment, completion, and completion in vocational-specific fields. We also explore whether vocational program completions are more correlated with local labor market needs after TAACCCT. Finally, preliminary findings suggest that students enrolling in vocational programs after TAACCCT are not trading away from the academic side of the college.

Our study has important implications for the ability of policy to affect alignment between training and local economies. There is widespread concern that the labor force does not have the skills necessary to meet local labor market needs. This study provides evidence that targeted funding through programs like TAACCCT can increase the number of students enrolling in and completing vocational training programs. The study also speaks to concerns that increasing capacity in vocational programs at community colleges occurs at the expense of academic, transfer-focused tracks.