Twenty-first-century skills (also known as noncognitive or soft skills) are increasingly viewed as critical for both education and employment outcomes. Research has shown that these skills — such as effective teamwork, problem-solving, and functioning in diverse work settings — are highly valued by employers and important to academic success as well, but community colleges either offer no instruction in these skills, or do so in a nonrigorous or ad hoc manner. Now, postsecondary institutions are increasingly realizing that if they do not offer opportunities for their students to master 21st-century skills they may be hurting both their educational attainment and their economic prospects — particularly important outcomes for community colleges, which train many of the nation’s entry- and middle-skill workers.
New World of Work (NWoW), a 21st-century skills program currently being piloted at a number of community colleges in California, incorporates three key components: a curriculum designed to be taught in the classroom, a work-based learning component, and a credential. Taken together, these three components, once enhanced and strengthened with evidence from this study, may have the potential to improve students’ 21st-century skills, which in turn could help move the needle on educational outcomes, such as college completion, and the likelihood of finding and keeping a job with family-supporting wages.
In partnership with the developers of the NWoW program and nine community colleges in California, MDRC will strengthen and refine the program and then pilot the refined model in career and technical education programs to assess its promise for improving educational and employment outcomes for students.