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Research Report

Funding the Development of Noncredit Workforce Training Programs

Organize, price, and identify funding sources for workforce training programs

Many community college administrators struggle to identify funding sources for noncredit workforce training programs. Furthermore, workforce training programs often lack self-sufficiency and can be unsustainable for institutions.

In this report, “workforce training” refers to programs that teach industry- or occupation-specific skills in response to demand from local and regional employers and job seekers.

This report profiles noncredit workforce training programs at seven institutions. It explores how administrators fund the development and operations of new noncredit professional programs through grants and industry partnerships. It also examines pricing and marketing strategies that promote program self-sufficiency over time.

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Program structure and operating needs

Most workforce training units employ independent instructors (i.e., instructors without a formal contract) and three to ten dedicated staff members; they typically share classroom space with other university programs. Many units use classrooms within continuing education divisions, but some units share general university classrooms. However, they rarely share university faculty because full-time faculty lack the workload flexibility of independent instructors. Most instructors are paid by the course, so canceled courses do not incur instructional costs.

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Funding noncredit workforce training

Three institutions receive governmental funds through state and local workforce investment boards that provide student aid and program development grants. Under the Workforce Investment Act (1998), state and local boards oversee the distribution of student aid for eligible noncredit training programs. Some boards also offer program development grants, often funded by the Department of Labor. Staff at two institutions serve on local boards and affiliated committees to build relations with industry leaders, community organizations, and other community training providers.

Workforce training units access additional grants through partnerships with other university departments and community colleges. Faculty in for-credit departments at one institution often apply for research grants to develop noncredit courses in collaboration with their workforce training unit. The workforce training unit at another institution sometimes partners with community colleges to develop joint workforce training programs through shared grants.

Four institutions primarily use revenue from existing programs to fund new programs, partly in response to limited external funding. For example, one institution has shifted to this model over the last two years because state funding for workforce training ceased during the recession. Existing revenue-generating programs typically include contract trainings. Some units housed within continuing education divisions may also use revenue from for-credit continuing education programs.

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Promoting self-sufficiency and sustainability

Administrators consult industry experts and survey prospective students to evaluate price points, and they generally expect program revenue to exceed expenses within one to two years. In addition to direct course expenses (e.g., instructor pay, course materials), calculations should account for indirect operational costs (e.g., staff salaries, space maintenance, marketing costs, website support). Administrators typically cancel programs that fail to meet minimum enrollments after two years.

Several institutions maintain industry advisory boards to cultivate corporate sponsorships and align training with employer needs. Administrators typically recruit board members through instructor contacts and industry associations. To emphasize the value of board membership, administrators present it as an opportunity to shape training to companies’ needs and to showcase companies to students as they enter the industry.

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