We should preserve the quality of college-level course work, but we should also recognize that if we’re going to meet the president’s goals we have to engage millions of learners whose first courses at community colleges are not for credit. This coursework falls into two categories: remedial education and occupational education, often referred to as skills training.
Occupational skills training can be anything from taking a class as part of preparing to be a plumber to project management or Oracle certification. The challenge here is more about mapping the skills and competencies needed to get industry-recognized credentials. Significant work has been done in this area since the late 1990s, especially around information technology certifications, but more work needs to be done in health care, construction, and the skilled trades.
We need a credit system that unites these different learning pathways instead of enshrining their differences. There are emergent practices for integrating remedial and for-credit course work—in Washington and Colorado, for instance—and occupational and academic benchmarking (Ohio). These models range from contextualizing basic skills into occupational course work to developing a system of stackable credentials that help benchmark student progress toward a full community college credential.
America’s Graduation Initiative grant funds can supercharge the integration process. The legislation should require that 30 percent of all investment in a funded program be used to integrate or align not-for-credit and for-credit course work in a sustainable education experience that yields a credential with labor market value. This means a new program or course of study is added to the course catalog at the end of the grant.
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