While most students head to campus with an eye on a degree, there’s a new breed of learner who arrives with no intention of graduating. These “skill builders” are taking only those classes that provide a certain expertise or training to help land better jobs.
Skill builders normally enroll for no more than four semesters and take six or fewer credits per semester, according to a study of students in the California Community College System. Students in the study were focused on construction, real estate, computers, law enforcement, and early childhood education courses. They saw their median salaries go up from $49,800 in 2008-09 to $54,600 in 2011-12 after taking the classes.
“The workforce is changing so dramatically and the economy is changing so dramatically that people need to keep going back to school to get the skills they need to stay employed or seek new employment,” Kathy Booth, co-author of the study, told Community College Week magazine.
Skill builders are an issue on campus because colleges are increasingly being evaluated on completion rates. However, institutions are starting to work on new types of credentials for these students.
One method is bundling the courses most skill builders are taking. For example, Macomb Community College, Warren, MI, has developed a six-week noncredit program for students taking the state’s certified nursing assistant exam and other schools are working on plans to offer programs focused on skills to help the unemployed return to the job market faster.
“Going to school for a piece of paper is the worst reason to go to school,” said Kevin Floerke, a 2010 graduate of UCLA who has become a skill builder at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA. “Go to school because you want to learn something.”