The movement to keep track of skill-builder students is still in its infancy. This can be a problem for colleges that are increasingly evaluated based on their completion rates, which generally don’t take into account students who show up to take a few Information Technology courses to get a raise or a promotion.

“That’s a success story for that student and for the overall economy and society, but it’s hard to count,” said Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges System.

Colleges can respond by bundling together the kinds of courses skill builders take and creating new kinds of credentials for them, said Patrick Perry, vice chancellor of technology at the California system chancellor’s office.

“Very short-term certificates — sometimes as low as two courses or six units — those are certificates that can be created pretty much on the fly,” Perry said.

Some schools are developing noncredit programs geared toward specific jobs for unemployed people who need to get back to work quickly.

In Michigan, for instance, Macomb Community College has developed a roughly six-week noncredit program to prepare students for the state’s certified nursing assistant exam.

“The issue there is, which credentials are powerful enough to say to people who are unemployed, ‘If you take these things, you will then be able to get these jobs,’” said Macomb President James Jacobs.

There’s yet another reason to go back to school without intending to get a degree, said Floerke, the archaeologist attending Santa Rosa Junior College.

“Going to school for a piece of paper is the worst reason to go to school,” he said. “Go to school because you want to learn something.”

©2014 The Hechinger Report. Distributed by MCT Information Services

Add your opinion to the discussion.