Community colleges and their students have a shared interest in accelerated learning: students can start working and earning money faster, and colleges can increase their completion rates.
Speaking at a series of panels in fall 2019 at the Urban Institute, community college officials from Ohio, Florida, and Nevada explained how their schools accelerate student learning.
Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio: Offering short-term certifications
Sinclair Community College is focused on competency-based programs that embed short-term certifications throughout their associate’s degrees. Its information technology (IT) programs were the first set of competency-based programs the college offered, in part because the state of Ohio has strong IT standards, which provided important guidance for the college.
Students working toward IT associate’s degrees have the option to take a single class that will lead to a C++ certification or a class providing literacy in HTML. And if a student has already taken the C++ exam, the college can articulate it into a credit.
The college finds that competency-based programs serve their students well—students who complete the program are 15 percent more likely to earn another credential within two years and 10 times as likely to participate in an internship. And the internship-to-hire rate is much higher than for those who do not participate in the competency-based programs.
Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Mapping students’ experiences to credit
Broward College helps its students accelerate their learning by ensuring they are getting credit for any learning or work experience they have. Whether a student presents with an industry certification or career and technical education courses from high school, the college has articulation agreements to ensure students receive credit for these experiences.
The agreements demonstrate to the crediting body that the school has mapped the competencies gained from these experiences to the coursework the students would have to take at Broward. Doing so required buy-in and assistance from faculty, who came together to help map the competencies to credits the college offers.
Students can use these credits toward a certificate and, eventually, an associate’s degree. Mildred Coyne, senior vice president of workforce and innovation at Broward explained how this process is about more than just curriculum: “It’s not just mapping—it’s making sure people aren’t duplicating things they’ve already done.”
Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nevada: Supporting credit accumulation
At Western Nevada College (WNC), faculty construct curriculum to ensure any credentials or courses can always be built into a longer-term degree.
For example, short-term credentials under 30 credits can accumulate into a 30-credit skill certificate, which can then stack in to a 60-credit associate’s degree and at least one 120-credit bachelor’s degree offered by WNC.
According to Kyle Dalpe, vice president of instruction and institutional effectiveness at WNC, “when the student does that whole run, based on their need, they haven’t taken extra classes. Every one of them counts for the next step up.”
The college is motivated to support credit accumulation because 80 percent of the funding the school receives from Nevada’s state government is awarded based on the number of students who complete credits (the remaining 20 percent is contingent on the number of students finishing degrees).
Further, these short-term skill certificates have real value to their students because each one has to lead to an industry-recognized credential for the school to count it in their completion numbers.
Western Nevada, Sinclair, and Broward Community Colleges are showing how colleges can create programs that reduce duplication of courses and the time it takes students to complete those programs—but colleges aren’t the only actors creating accelerated learning options.
Heidi Speese of the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) discussed how the certifying body is exploring the concept of microcredentials in areas like food safety and quality, which would allow people to earn a credential on a section of a program. NOCTI isn’t currently planning to make these microcredentials inherently stackable, but colleges could design curricula so they stack into existing programs and certifications.