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