In this section Westat first discusses cross-area differences in a variety of demographic, college, and labor market characteristics, and then discusses differences in industrial mix in greater detail. As shown in Table 2A and 2B, we were able to assemble substantial information about local economies and local residents from data collected by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We then linked those data to readily available information about college characteristics from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) maintained by the National Center for Educational Statistics of the Department of Education. Finally, we were able to use the resulting database to describe variation in the labor-market and demographic characteristics of community college service areas, and characteristics of the colleges in terms of enrollment and funding sources, as well as to assess the association between area and college characteristics and the probability the college is cited as exemplary.
Tables 2A and 2B describe key characteristics of the nation’s 1,190 community colleges (as identified using the 1997-98 IPEDS) grouped in four different ways: by the type of area (large city to rural area as per IPEDS definitions), enrollment (colleges with over 30,000 enrollees to fewer than 500), ratio of local to state funding (from over 55 percent local to less than 10 percent local), and poverty level of local residents (from over 25 percent to less than 7 percent). There are three groups of key community college-level characteristics listed across the columns of Table 2A: enrollment distribution, average enrollment and number of institutions; college financial characteristics; area enrollment in different types of postsecondary education institutions. There are also two groups of key local labor market characteristics listed across the columns of Table 2B: demographics and local labor market characteristics.
In brief, Westat’s analysis of Table 2A and 2B suggests that the nature and size of the local economy, the local workforce, and the college itself strongly affect the size and type of career-oriented programs the college is likely to develop. More specifically, community colleges that have extensive career-oriented programs tend to:
Have large enrollments, which were indicators of having:
Programs that could form the basis of partnerships with businesses and economic development agencies.
Have large budgets with substantial portions coming from local government sources that literally were a “buy-in” from local civic and business leaders that helped focus the colleges on meeting local education and training needs.
Be located in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas, with many major high-tech employers nearby because they created many more partnership opportunities:
Importantly, profiles suggest that each college uses its internal strengths, and those of its community, to develop programs that benefit a large group of local, regional, and national businesses, workers, students, ordinary citizens, governments, and even other educators. Thus, the external factors place distinct limits on how easy it would be to develop market responsive programs but do not preclude a college from developing highly useful and highly innovative programs. Indeed, it is Westat’s view that when the external constraints are taken into account it is as likely that a large college with strong local financial support from nearby high-tech employers is not reaching itsparticular potential, as a small college in a rural area surrounded by declining coal mines and textile plants is not reaching itsconsiderably different potential.
Table 2A. Characteristics of Public U.S. Community Colleges and Their Areas of Operation