Elevating Student Voice: Resources from the Non-Credit to Credit Alignment Lab

February 14, 2024

Approximately 3.7 million students are enrolled in non-credit programs at community colleges across the United States. These learners and non-credit workforce training programs are critical in fulfilling the mission of community and technical colleges and meeting the demands of our rapidly evolving workforce. Data consistently bears out that learners with greater levels of educational attainment fare better in our labor market and are less susceptible to economic downturn. 

Yet, too often learners who begin their postsecondary journey through non-credit training are overlooked and siloed away from their credit or degree-seeking counterparts. 

In the Education Strategy Group (ESG) 2020 report, A More Unified Community College, ESG found real and perceived stratification within the student experience for those pursuing non-credit. For example, learners enrolled in non-credit may not have access to the library, advising services, health and fitness centers, basic needs support, or even a student identification card. These disparities exacerbate inequality in attainment, especially for adult learners and students of color. 

Establishing seamless pathways between non-credit and credit and eliminating existing siloes is necessary for learners to achieve actualized economic mobility and have a variety of postsecondary options. 

In partnership with ESG, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) launched the Non-Credit and Credit Alignment Lab (NCAL), a two-year initiative to support 20 community colleges and four community college systems in developing new or improved pathways between non-credit and credit programs. Recognizing a gap in research and practice, participating institutions began this project by getting to know their learners enrolled in non-credit. Through surveys, informational interviews, and focus groups, leaders sat down with their students to learn more about their academic aspirations and the challenges they faced in pursuing either further education or landing a good-paying job. 

The results of these interviews were clear: Students enrolled in non-credit programs want degrees and support services are necessary to help them get there.

As non-credit programs grow in popularity across the country, what can non-credit to credit students teach us about opportunities to support all students more equitably? 

We are pleased to help introduce and amplify the voices of students and institutional leaders focused on serving them, including profiles of six students who each attended colleges participating in NCAL and benefited from the work to build alignment between non-credit and credit, as well as video profiles of San Diego College of Continuing Education, San Jacinto College, and North Shore Community College.

Additionally, ESG Director Annie Phillips co-hosted a webinar alongside ACCT’s Policy Associate, Sean Robins, to share the perspectives of several of the students and administrators who led the NCAL work to better understand how student voice and experience influenced systems change at the colleges:

Equitably Serving Learners in Non-Credit: Lessons Learned from the Non-Credit and Credit Alignment Lab Webinar

And finally, check out this episode of ACCT’s own podcast, “In the Know” guest starring Annie Phillips discussing these topics and more:

In the Know EP: 132 - Equitably Serving Learners

Annie Phillips is a Director at Education Strategy Group (ESG) leading work that fosters collaboration among K-12, higher education and workforce stakeholders.

Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Non-Credit to Credit Alignment Lab Initiative to support efforts to develop new or improved pathways between non-credit and credit programs.

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ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

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