Increasing access through noncredit education

California's Mt. San Antonio College offers more than 50 short-term vocational programs, including a 12-week physical therapist aide course. (Photo: Mt. SAC)

Noncredit programs have been welcoming students and promoting career and college pathways for decades, regardless of individuals’ educational, personal or immigration status.

These programs provide a safe space to engage with faculty, staff and peers. Simply stated: noncredit education transforms the lives of adults within a safe space as they seek jobs, higher wages, life enrichment, college preparation and support during college.

This excerpt comes from an article in the current issue of Community College Journal, which is published bimonthly by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Take for example, Liliana, a Mexican immigrant who arrived in the U.S. with no knowledge of English and quickly discovered the noncredit English as a second language (ESL) program at the Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in California. Over several years, she acquired enough English and writing skills to earn her high school equivalency certificate. However, she was motivated to follow her intended career pathway in college because of the availability of a noncredit vocational ESL business course sequence.

Liliana has almost completed an associate degree in business with future plans to earn a master’s degree in business and gain full-time employment. Although Liliana’s experience is her own, noncredit education is a valuable resource for countless students to achieve their potential and goals.

Why noncredit?

In 2018-19, more than 47,000 students took noncredit courses at Mt. SAC, many of whom were seeking college readiness and/or career skills for immediate employment. Given the variety of coursework options and flexible scheduling, noncredit students can customize their programs in ways that support their short- and long-term goals, as illustrated by Liliana’s successful journey.

Although it is not the case in all states, noncredit education in California community colleges is free, which eliminates some of the financial barriers faced by students. Further, there is flexibility in scheduling courses during the evening, weekends or on a compressed calendar to be responsive to student or employer demand.

Noncredit programs also are well known for engaging and delivering a personal touch to students, while using a case-management approach that includes embedded counseling and wrap-around services to address such things as homelessness and food insecurity. Each noncredit student has a unique pathway and these programs offer multiple access points for students.

Supporting credit success

Supporting credit is a growing role for California noncredit programs. This is due to the 2017 landmark legislation California Assembly Bill 705, which essentially ended the long-standing practice of placing credit students into extended sequences of remedial math and English courses based solely on standardized assessments. Placement is now determined through multiple measures that include transcripts, prior coursework, certifications, interviews and other means.

As a result, students can enroll directly into transfer-level math and English courses without taking years of remedial coursework. Although the intent is to promote increased equity and access for all students seeking transfer-level coursework and degrees/certificates, some students still do not feel prepared for the higher placement.

A solution to knowledge gaps is the availability of noncredit educational options to credit students who may not be ready for transfer-level coursework. As a result of the new policy, most colleges now offer primarily transferable math and English with very few or no courses below transfer level.

In order to address potential gaps in preparation, some colleges are pairing credit co-requisite math and English foundational courses with transfer courses to improve course success. However, some colleges need to utilize noncredit inst-ruction by offering the co-requisite as a free noncredit course. This enables students to avoid accumulating non-transferrable units.

Read the full article.

About the Author

Madelyn Arballo
is associate vice president of the School of Continuing Education at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California.