Noncredit and Credit Alignment Lab (NCAL)

Last Updated: 03/09/2024

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Overview

The Noncredit and Credit Alignment Lab (NCAL) launched in August 2021 to support 14 community college governance units (systems, districts, or colleges) to develop new or improved pathways between non-credit and credit programs. The project was supported by a grant from ECMC Foundation.

The two-year national initiative (2021-2023) was founded in the growing recognition that non-credit programming can be a steppingstone to further education and training that leads to higher earnings and greater career sustainability. It also responded to the reality that current systems are designed to discourage rather than facilitate pathways across non-credit and credit programs. As a result, many students in non-credit programs are denied pathways to additional learning, and colleges fail to serve a significant population of engaged learners ready to enroll in credit-bearing programs. To achieve greater equity and develop more resilient and responsive systems following a global pandemic, community colleges can bridge the divide between non-credit and credit programs.

The Education Strategy Lab (ESG) partnered in this effort, building on work begun with the publication of A More Unified Community College: Strategies and Resources to Align Non-Credit and Credit Programs. The report is a compilation of research, strategies, and exemplars in the field that can help community colleges create more equitable student experiences and produce better outcomes. The resource contains:

  • Background on the critical importance of aligning credit and non-credit programming at community colleges.
  • A new framework that systems and institutions can use to facilitate this alignment.
  • Four different starting points for institutions to begin implementing the framework, each accompanied by a case study highlighting this work in action.
  • Three distinct Getting Started Guides: one for institutions and systems, another for states, and a third for administrators, faculty, and staff.

NCAL provided opportunities for community college leaders gain knowledge and support from peers and national experts. Each participating college works to develop or improve pathways between non-credit and credit functions. In doing so, they have addressed barriers to alignment related to program design, institutional policy, governance structures, administrative functions, and student supports.

Through this initiative, ACCT and ESG built the case among community colleges that non-credit and credit alignment is critical for students and colleges alike—for students it provides a pathway to higher-level credentials that lead to higher wages and more sustainable careers; for colleges it creates a new on-ramp for enrollments.

Partners

  • Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT)
  • Education Strategy Group (ESG
  • ECMC Foundation
  • CUNY Community College Consortium
  • Hudson County Community College
  • Jackson College
  • Lehigh Carbon Community College
  • Louisiana Community and Technical College System
  • Minnesota State Colleges and Universities
  • North Iowa Area Community College
  • North Shore Community College
  • NorthWest Arkansas Community College
  • Prince George’s Community College
  • San Diego College of Continuing Education
  • San Jacinto College
  • University of Hawai’i Community Colleges
  • Vance-Granville Community College.

Outcomes

On January 17, 2024, Education Strategy Group (ESG) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) presented a webinar to share best practices on more equitably serving learners enrolled in non-credit programs. Leaders and students from San Diego Community College District, North Shore Community College, and San Jacinto College shared their perspectives on non-credit and credit alignment and why institutional leaders must prioritize treating learners enrolled in non-credit equitably to their degree-seeking counterparts. The webinar offered strategies to ensure postsecondary institutions more effectively and equitably serve learners enrolled in non-credit.

The webinar is available to watch on-demand along with accompanying resources -- the stories of six students as well as video profiles of their three respective colleges to help the field understand what it takes to serve this unique population of students and ensure they are able to access the high-paying, in-demand jobs that will help them, and their families, thrive.

Resources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWrqlvTLAw4

https://www.acct.org/article/acct-and-esg-launch-noncredit-and-credit-alignment-lab

KEY COMPONENTS

STAKEHOLDER GROUPS

INITIATIVE LAUNCH YEAR

2021

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