PROJECTChanging Community College Systems for Student Success

Accelerated Learning


Redesigning Programs of Study and Curricula

Community colleges are redesigning their programs of study to help students move through courses and earn credit and credentials more quickly as they progress. These efforts can include sequencing courses and creating tools to ensure students only take the classes they need to complete their programs. Some colleges may also require full-time attendance to reduce the likelihood that students will drop out.


Course mapping
As a part of guided pathways, community colleges redesign programs of study to provide a map of the program from start to finish so students know which courses they must complete throughout the program, how long the program will take, and what types of employment opportunities will be available to them when they graduate.

Mandatory full-time enrollment
Community colleges require students to attend full time to decrease the time a credential takes to complete. They remove barriers and offer supports to make full-time enrollment feasible, especially for working students.

Competency-based education models 
Programs of study are based on models that (1) identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to successfully perform critical work functions in an industry or occupation and (2) assess students’ mastery of competencies throughout the program.

Blocked course schedules
Community colleges may group course times and schedule them at hours that may be more convenient for busy students, such as those who work and have families.

Stacked and latticed credentials
A credential is considered stacked when it is part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up a person’s qualifications and help him or her move along a career pathway. A credential is considered latticed if it connects to multiple career pathways.

Examples From the Field

Guided Pathways across Ohio’s Community Colleges

Several community colleges in Ohio saw initial success in improving student outcomes through a test of the guided pathways model. Now, Ohio is trying to implement guided pathways statewide by building systems to map pathways to student goals, helping students choose and enter a program pathway, keeping students on path, and ensuring students are learning. Community college leadership, faculty, and institutional research staff are working together to map and redesign programs of study and to track student progress and completion.

City University of New York’s Accelerated Study of Associate Programs (ASAP)

ASAP requires students to attend college full time and take developmental education courses early to graduate in three years. Students receive career guidance, intensive counseling from an adviser with a small caseload, and a tutor to support success during and after the program. ASAP offers special course scheduling in convenient blocks of time to accommodate student work schedules. The program has seen success: the graduation rate for ASAP students is double that of other City University of New York students, and the cost of attendance has dropped due to reduced time to completion.


Aligning Enrollment, Credit Award,
and Other Policies 

Community colleges and state community college systems are developing policies to help support accelerated learning for students. These policies are internal to the college and are typically designed to remove barriers to students pursuing their studies.


Dual enrollment
Policies may support enrollment in both high school and college for youth or enrollment in both adult education and college for those without a high school diploma or GED.

Credit for prior learning or work experience
A college may award credit for a student’s previous coursework or work experience if it demonstrates a mastery of competencies or skills for a program of study.

Policies that reduce reliance on placement exams 
A college may decide to use several measures of success, provide more support to students around exams, and seek better assessments of basic skills.

Examples From the Field

Connecticut Colleges’ Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Experience

Supported by a US Department of Labor grant, a consortium of five Connecticut community colleges refined prior learning assessment systems so that students could be awarded credit for relevant credit and noncredit coursework, prior training, and work experience. The colleges worked together to standardize and coordinate PLA policies and process. By the end of the grant period, the five colleges had awarded over 15,000 credits to 1,600 participants, partially through PLAs.


Using Technology to Support Access to Programs for Busy Students

Community colleges are using technology to ensure that students, many of whom work, have families, or live far from campuses, can access education and shorten their time to completion. Technology can support open enrollment processes, modularize content and courses, and simulate work experiences and practical skills. Institutions can also use technology to support online learning and related instruction assistance for working students, students who live in rural areas, or students who face challenges with child care or transportation.


Online and hybrid learning
Instruction is delivered by accessing a computer or mobile device. With hybrid learning, instruction is delivered online and in the classroom.

Asynchronistic scheduling or self-paced learning 
Classes are scheduled and organized so that participants can complete coursework on their own time. Participants typically must connect or contribute to the class once or twice a week.

Examples From the Field

Self-Paced, Faculty-Supported Learning at Edmonds Community College

All Progressive Accelerated Certificates for Employment in Information Technology (PACE-IT) programs at Edmonds Community College involve online webinars and class sessions, which enable participants to gain skills at the time, place, and pace best suited to their needs and abilities. Students can ask questions in real time during webinars, and faculty post their presentations online for participants who may have missed a class or to expand on a topic. Faculty respond within 24 hours to requests for support, hold chat sessions, and share screens with participants so they can jointly navigate the desktop.

Research Areas Education Workforce
Tags Job training