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What Does Free Community College Mean for Professional Learning Spaces?

By SmartBrief Editors

This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA.


The idea of offering free access to community college, and even entire degree programs, has gained steam in recent years. CNBC reports that 11 states in the country offer at least some tuition-free community college programs to qualified students and nine more have these programs in the works.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that the United States is 10th in the world in postsecondary attainment.

When people think about free community college, America’s youth spring to mind–young people who will be evaluating colleges in the next decade. But young people are not the only ones who stand to gain from these programs. Professional, continuing education and online education could see a boost if tuition-free community college programs expand.

Increasing access to postsecondary credentials can change minimum qualifications for some fields. Further, those who already have a college degree or certification will need to upskill or update their level of knowledge to keep up with the new crop of professionals coming to the table with similar qualifications. In most cases, this will mean industry-specific professional certifications and advanced degree programs often offered by professional, continuing and online divisions of colleges and universities.

As tuition-free community college programs continue to roll out nationwide, online and professional learning programs will need to take note. Non-community college based providers will need to demonstrate their value, and learner-focused attributes, including accelerated timelines, rigorous curricula and relevant, job-focused certifications. It will mean a harder fight for the dollars that corporations and individuals put toward professional development. Colleges and universities should already be thinking about how they will stand out. The change is already underway – will your institution be ahead of the curve?

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