Benchmarking Community College Success

by Michelle Massie
January 15, 2014

As education costs continue to rise and the skills gap persists, the focus is on community colleges as key players to educate the workforce and enable individuals to gain valuable training to access better jobs. While the need for training is clear, many community colleges have limited data on workforce programs, especially those offered without credit.

Enter the Workforce Training Benchmark Project. The project provides community colleges with voluntary metrics to express productivity and outcomes. Colleges may submit data on the benchmarks, creating standardized and comparable information on non-credit workforce education activities.

The project will provide a set of over 50 different benchmarks, such as student enrollment, retention, student satisfaction, financial data, staffing data and transition from non-credit to credit instruction. The benchmarks are designed to give college presidents and workforce training administrators pertinent information to support strategic planning, continuous improvement, and cost and revenue analysis.

“The data from the Workforce Benchmarking Project can be used by community colleges to improve the effectiveness and operations of their workforce non-credit programs,” Lou A. Guthrie, Director of the National Higher Education Benchmarking Institute, said. “Community colleges in the pilot study for the project indicated that just collecting the data from their own institution was a great learning experience; showing them their strengths and areas where they need improvement. Being able to compare to national data or self-selected peer institutions based on various demographic features makes the data invaluable.” 

The benchmarking project was developed by the National Higher Education Benchmarking Institute (NHEBI) at Johnson County Community College in Kansas, in conjunction with the National Council of Continuing Education & Training (NCCET). Several colleges from across the nation helped to craft the benchmarks and create procedures for data collection.

NHEBI also manages benchmark projects that measure other aspects of community colleges, including learning outcomes, community involvement and instructional costs.

In the past several years, multiple organizations have created benchmark initiatives in postsecondary education. For example, the American Association of Community Colleges supports the Voluntary Framework of Accountability, a set of metrics for student progress and outcomes. Complete College America and the National Governors Association developed common college completion metrics, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association now collects this benchmark data on public institutions.