Gauging entrepreneurial activities at community colleges

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Many community colleges with entrepreneurial interests appear to have increased, or at least not reduced, their range of entrepreneurship education and training activities over the past several years despite Covid and resource availability headwinds at some institutions, according to a recently conducted informal national member survey by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE). 

The NACCE survey examined current levels of, and year-to-year patterns in, entrepreneurial activities among its community and technical college members. Of the 12 entrepreneurial activity categories in which comparative responses were sought for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021, eight entrepreneurial activity categories showed growth from pre-Covid-2019 to 2021 two categories showed decreases and two were roughly flat.

Further, many responding institutions not offering individual activities said they plan to offer them in the future. For six of nine activities for which the question was asked, at least 15% of respondents said that they planned to begin offering the activities in the future.

NACCE CEO and President Rebecca Corbin says that given the many challenges Covid presented to NACCE members, she was encouraged by the survey results. 

“NACCE is continually seeking information to better understand how to support community colleges in their quest to become more innovative and entrepreneurially,” Corbin says. “While quantitative data is always helpful, trends and information from smaller samples can open doors to new projects and initiatives that yield great benefit for the community college sector. We are pleased and not all surprised that despite the pandemic, entrepreneurial activity has continued to be a priority and to grow to some degree.”

The response rate for the informal survey, which was not necessarily statistically representative, was fairly low – a total of 41 NACCE members responded to the survey, which was conducted between May 14 and June 15. Further, many of those 41 respondents did not respond to all 64 survey questions.

Corbin said that the relatively low response rate and restrained growth or dips in some entrepreneurship education activities in part reflected overarching Covid challenges for community colleges that have diverted resources and administrative from entrepreneurial education efforts at some institutions, as well as the timing of the survey, which was conducted toward the end of the academic year when administrators and academics are busy with end-of-school-year obligations.

Growth in some categories

The survey found a steady growth in institutions offering makerspaces, which are collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing entrepreneurial activities. The percentage of respondents offering a makerspace steadily increased from 25.6% in 2019, to 28.21% in 2020, to 46.15% in 2021. A total of 23% of respondents indicated that they do not currently offer a makerspace but plan to offer one in the future, while 28.2% state they have no plans to do so in the future.

There was also growth in community colleges offering venture labs, which exist to launch innovative ideas into the world of business by assisting with business development and planning, connecting entrepreneurs with mentors, locating funding sources and other supports – essentially building a strong foundation and launching into the main street arena. The number of institutions offering venture labs grew from 12.9% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2021, after dipping to 9.7% in 2020. A further 25.8% of respondents indicated that while they do not currently plan to offer venture labs, they have plans to do so in the future, while 54.8% of respondents indicated they have no plans to offer venture labs.

The percentage of respondents offering incubators, which are programs for startup companies — usually physically located in one central workspace — designed to help startups in their infancy succeed by providing workspace, seed funding, mentoring and training, grew from 19.3% in 2019 to 25.8% in both 2020 and 2021.  A further 22.6% plan to offer incubators in the future, while 51.6% have no plans to do so.

The survey also found that a growing percent of responding institutions participate in partnership-based or pilot program at NACCE that created a cohort of institutions, was grant-funded or provided funding to the institution, with the percentage responding affirmatively rising from 21.7% in 2019, 39.2% in 2020 and 47.8% in 2021.

The number of institutions offering one or more degree or certificate programs grew from 57.1% of respondents for 2019, to 67.9% in 2021. A total of 10.1% of institutions said they plan to offer such programs in the future, while 17.9% of respondents said that they had no plans to do so.  Currently, 42% of responding institutions offer degree programs, 65.4% offer certificate programs and 15% offer other types of programs.

Headwinds elsewhere

The percentage of respondents offering entrepreneurs-in-residence, which are often successful businesspeople who affiliate with an institution, counsel its entrepreneurs on their businesses, and connect them to resources in the greater business community, fell from 21.4% in 2019 to 14% in both 2020 and 2021. A total of 17% of respondents said they planned to offer such programming in the future, while 64.3% said they had no plans to do so.

The number of institutions offering standalone classes, seminar, speakers and events fell from 80.8% in 2019 to 69.2% in 2020 before rebounding slightly to 73% in 2021.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

A large area of focus for NACCE’s entrepreneurship activities is diversity, equity and inclusion. A total of 72.7% of survey respondents said that their entrepreneurial efforts focus on serving small business owners from diverse backgrounds, while 27.3% indicated that they did not. An even 50% of respondents indicated that their entrepreneurial activities focused specifically on serving one or more historically underserved populations, while another 50% said they did not.   

Respondents were asked about the greatest challenges to achieving their entrepreneurial goals.  Many cited Covid, lack of sufficient funding, staff, and senior institutional leadership commitment to increasing entrepreneurship education and activities, and philosophical differences with leadership and among faculty regarding the ideal nature and scope of entrepreneurship activities.

Upcoming NACCE initiatives

The survey comes as NACCE is exploring a variety of entrepreneurial education expansion efforts. NACCE is attempting to scale up a national initiative to launch underfunded community college entrepreneurs into business through its Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund program. A total of 13 community colleges in nine states are already participating in the EEVF program. 

NACCE is seeking to raise $10 million dollars from foundations, private philanthropists, and corporate social responsibility programs to provide matching funds to approved EEVF colleges that further those dollars by securing local matching funds, ultimately bringing the program to all 50 states. 

NACCE is planning a policy forum and funders panel for October 6, in conjunction with its annual conference will take place on October 3-6 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The event will highlight rural and urban entrepreneurs who will share their stories in building new businesses.

About the Author

David Tobenkin
is a freelance writer in the greater Washington, D.C., area.