Tag Archives: Achieving the Dream

Pathways Linking Non-Degree and Credit Programs Can Help Students Meet Academic and Career Goals

The burden for making sure college-level learning counts for college credit should not be on the community college student. Instead, linking non-degree and credit programs in which college-level learning occurs should be part of the intentional design of guided and career pathways that colleges develop. Aligning non-credit and credit programming is an essential aspect for a student-centered college, and some student-centered community colleges are exhibiting this principle by rethinking how they prepare students for success in the labor market, and by connecting workforce development and credit-based education and training programs.

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The opportunity for colleges to meet students’ academic and career goals and improve their academic and job outcomes is huge. Millions of community college students are currently enrolled in non-degree programs, according to the American Association of Community College’s Fast Facts from 2017. According to the US Department of Education in their 2016 Adult Education and Training Survey, 27% of adults have a non-degree postsecondary certificate, a certification, or a license.

We recently worked with seven community colleges that formed the Northeast Resiliency Consortium (NRC). Led by Passaic County Community College, and including Atlantic Cape Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, Capital Community College, Housatonic Community College, Kingsborough Community College, and LaGuardia Community College, the consortium was awarded a U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training Grant. Achieving the Dream served as the convening and technical assistance partner for the colleges. DVP-Praxis and Equal Measure served as the third-party evaluator for the consortium.

The evaluation of these colleges’ work to link non-credit and credit-based programs shows promising results for students’ college and job success. A higher percentage of students enrolled on non-degree to credit pathways banked or earned college credits, transitioned to credit-based programs, and gained and were retained in employment than a matched comparison group who were not enrolled in programs that had a non-degree to credit link. To learn more about how colleges are doing this important work, read the issue brief, “Creating Opportunity for All: Building Pathways from Continuing Education to Credit Programs.”

Students deserve access to clear, coherent pathways in their colleges, whether they enroll in non-credit short-term education and training programs that yield non-degree certifications or pursue credentials and degrees through credit-based programs. We believe that when colleges connect non-degree and credit-based programs, these pathways can smooth the way for students to work toward a college degree even if they begin their studies in a non-degree program.

To achieve this seamless pathway for students requires a whole college solution, with clearly defined and widely recognized mechanisms for assessing the competencies and skills imparted in non-degree programs, and subsequently mapping these competencies to credit courses and programs at the college. These formal mechanisms should be codified in institutional policy, and communicated on college websites, through advising sessions, and via instructors in both non-credit and credit courses. These mechanisms should become part of the standard practices at colleges so more students can meet their academic and career goals no matter where they begin their postsecondary education and training.

Derek V. Price


An essential practice: providing integrated academic, personal, and career support services to help more low-income students at community colleges succeed.

On February 14, we released our final implementation evaluation report on the Working Students Success Network (WSSN). This , Meeting basic needs and improving financial stability for community college students: Lessons from the Working Students Success Network implementation evaluation examines the implementation efforts of colleges involved in the WSSN – a three-year initiative at 19 colleges in four states aimed at addressing the challenges low-income community colleges face both on and off campus. One of the most important conclusions from our evaluation is that a wide array of academic, personal, and career support services need to be fully integrated into the overall culture and operations of the institution and not be limited to a distinct program.

The WSSN initiative—managed by the college reform organization Achieving the Dream—offers a systematic and integrated approach to helping low-income students succeed in college. It applies a fresh, holistic framework to encouraging student success by addressing nonacademic matters, such as students’ family and work responsibilities, financial needs beyond tuition, and the financial knowledge they need to sustain the other aspects of their lives as key components of academic success.
In our report, we note that that in the initial three years, participating institutions have made particular strides in:

  • Expanding services in areas where they had previously offered limited support, including income and work supports, financial literacy, and asset building;
  • Targeting more intensive and customized support to the students with the greatest need, including adults in basic education programs, students on public assistance, those in workforce education or training programs, and those seeking GEDs to transition into college;
  • Engaging outside partners—community-based organizations, businesses, and public human services agencies; and
  • Integrating multiple services to meet students’ basic needs and improve their financial security, including public benefits information, financial literacy, and career and employment services.

Our report also identifies key strategies undertaken by WSSN colleges, including two promising approaches for colleges that want to provide comprehensive and integrated services that address a broad spectrum of students’ basic needs and can improve their financial stability:

  • One-on-one, personalized assistance (e.g., coaching) with multiple areas and issues related to students’ basic needs and financial stability. High-touch, personalized coaching and the intensive relationships between coaches and students were widely seen by faculty, staff, and administrators as a “game changer” for addressing the complex circumstances facing students. This was especially important for students who had little or no prior experience or familiarity with postsecondary education.
  • A centralized location where students’ basic needs and financial insecurities can be addressed. A centralized one-stop shop or “hub” to provide services in a centralized location helps colleges integrate and bundle services for students. Typically, the services are provided by college staff and partners and create a highly visible symbol of how the college is daily addressing the struggles faced by low-income students.

Finally, the report identifies key factors that enabled the highest performing institutions to implement the WSSN initiative with rigor and embed it in their daily work. The mature institutions:

  • Demonstrated committed leadership and shared responsibilities across the institution;
  • Broke down silos between student service programs and key departments of the university;
  • Developed widespread “buy-in” to an integrated model of service delivery and deeper understanding of the conditions of poverty that affect their students. They extended the buy-in by elevating key services like food banks as symbolic reminders of the institution’s commitment to its students’ financial stability; and
  • Broadened engagement with and collaboration among external partners.

The completion agenda is a critical national imperative, and community colleges are core partners in this effort. Two-thirds of the nation’s 6.9 million students who attend community colleges are low-income students from families earning less than $50,000. More than one-third live below the poverty line. To get by, most community college students work either full or part time, and many are raising children, supporting parents, or contributing to family expenses. Over one-third are the first in their families to go to college and over half are people of color.

As we indicate in our report, “providing support services to address the daily struggles low-income students face to pay for food, housing, child care, health care, and transportation along with college tuition and fees should be an essential strategy of the college completion agenda.”

Derek V. Price