The Impact of High Quality Short-Term Programs

A high quality short-term program- one that leads to a recognized postsecondary certificate, license or credential and is aligned to local, regional or state labor market demand- is essential to leveling the field for learners of all backgrounds to pursue meaningful and diverse career pathways. The majority of the country’s labor market requires education attainment beyond high school, but not a four-year degree. Short-term programs can be directly responsive to labor market demand and designed to align with employer needs to the learner with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful. Further, these programs support the lifelong learning that is important for today’s evolving world of work, and often contribute to the stackable credentials that coincide with a career pathway. Short-term programs can be part of a full career pathway, putting an individual on track for a career in their area of interest that provides a family-sustaining salary. 

Short-term programs may be for-credit or noncredit, with many categorized as noncredit. A large and rapidly increasing portion of all postsecondary learners enroll in noncredit courses, and this figure is expected to continue to grow. This is because these programs typically lead to a postsecondary credential that often has a more immediate connection to an occupational skill or competency than most associate or baccalaureate degree programs and are frequently offered at a substantially lower cost to learners. Short-term programs can be especially beneficial for adult learners returning to education who are looking for a more affordable program that is designed to be more flexible than the traditional, and longer, degree option. These can better fit into the schedule of a student who is working full-time or is responsible for a family. 

The affordability and flexibility of short-term programs is especially significant since the notion of a “traditional” college student, one who enrolls immediately after high school, is shifting. In fact, over 70 percent of those enrolled in postsecondary education fall into at least one category of a nontraditional learner. 54 percent of short-term programs take place over one year or less, and make up 24 percent of all postsecondary awards in the country. 

Now, during the economic and health crisis, high quality short-term programs will play an important role in economic recovery. With millions of Americans unemployed, Black and Latinx workers, workers with a high school education or less and female workers have been disproportionately impacted. A significant number of learners of all ages now need fast but quality upskilling and reskilling through avenues such as short-term programs that will result in living-wage, in-demand careers. 

Meredith Hills, Senior Associate for Federal Policy

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