Credit Pathways, Noncredit-to-Credit Articulation

Last Updated: 03/31/2024

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Overview

Credit pathways are ways for learners to earn reputable or transferable credits for proven skills or work completed. Credit pathways include but are not limited to credit/course articulation, noncredit-to-credit bridges, and credit for prior learning.

Course articulation is the process of comparing the content of courses that are transferred between postsecondary institutions – one institution matches its courses or requirements to coursework completed at another institution.

Non-credit education includes any course or program that did not go through the process to be for-credit at a community college or university.

Many higher education institutions develop noncredit-to-credit bridge pathways to enable learners to earn credit for learning acquired through noncredit courses and programs. While noncredit courses are ways for students to learn new skills, develop existing knowledge and broaden their horizons, they do not count toward a degree.

Articulation can sometimes enable students to transfer their noncredit learning experiences into credit. This can occur within the same college or to a different educational institution as long as there is an established articulation agreement between the two institutions. These noncredit courses may transfer for full or partial credit, depending on content and program alignment. Articulation criteria can vary across programs, institutions, regions, systems, and states. There are various strategies to smooth this process out for credit earners, including bridge tools, credit matrices, articulation agreements, and equivalency agreements.

Education Strategy Group: High-quality learning experiences in industry-focused noncredit programs, whether tied to a credential or not, should count for credit. Some programs award credit for learning when students transition into credit programs through the use of bridge tools, such as credit matrices, articulation agreements or equivalency agreements. Credit-based programs go through the process to become accredited while maintaining labor-market orientation, putting students on a direct pathway to an associate’s degree. Strong coordination across noncredit and credit departments is key in scaling and sustaining successful alignment. Colleges should consider organizing relevant noncredit and credit programs into the same department or establishing joint leadership.

Evergreen Valley College: Noncredit Education courses are designed for students who wish to advance their educational and career goals. Noncredit Bridge to Career Pathways serve as a Gateway into credit certificate and degree programs that lead to entry-level employment.

Jobs for the Future (JFF): Articulation enables students to easily transfer their noncredit learning into credit. This transfer can occur within the same college or, in many cases, to a different educational institution as long as an articulation agreement between the institutions has been established. While some noncredit courses may transfer for full credit, others may transfer only for fractional credit, depending on the course content and alignment to the degree program. The criteria and requirements for credit articulation can vary greatly across programs, institutions, and states.

Peregrine Global Services: There are a variety of bridge tools institutions can use to strengthen how noncredit courses translate to academic credits. Some schools will create formalized articulation agreements or internal equivalency agreements to illustrate how a noncredit course, industry certification, and credited course articulate. Another method is to cross-list courses within a learning management system and standardize learning outcomes, performance expectations, and faculty qualifications between credit and noncredit courses. Finally, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) has become a common method for providing credit to students who can demonstrate competency based on work or noncredit course experience and education. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credits help bridge the gap between higher education and the real world.

Ecosystem Relationship

Credit-delivering programs work to maintain labor-market value and orientation and put earners on a pathway to a degree or better career. Credit and noncredit programs need strong alignment, transparency, and verification in order to scale and be successful. Credential providers provide these credit pathways to support students in their career pathways.

Types/Examples

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) has merged non-credit and credit programs into a single unit at the system office. The merger includes adult education. The unit is named Education and Training.

Evergreen Valley College’s noncredit offerings offer learners a way to broaden their horizons or prepare for college-level coursework. Free noncredit classes are offered for learners looking to explore, build skills or prepare for a new educational goal.

Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio) restructured their programs into Centers of Excellence. Each center has mapped its noncredit credential offerings to applied associate’s degrees.

Workforce Solutions at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System has been offering short-term, industry-focused training as traditional credit courses since 2001. This approach enables better alignment of former noncredit training with state funding mechanisms which flow directly into credit-based programs, while remaining responsive to employers. When new training offerings are developed, faculty make a credit recommendation based on competencies already approved and can gain credit approval.

Students in noncredit programs at Monroe Community College (New York) receive advising on par with those in degree programs. The Economic and Workforce Development Center uses a high-touch case management approach to support students in noncredit programs in finding employment and managing course schedules. The center serves students in credit and noncredit programs, and interfaces with workforce staff to provide access to career-spanning pathway maps and data on labor market demands.

Alternative Terminology

  • Credit transfer
  • Credit articulation
  • Credit bridges, bridges
  • Industry certification or credit
  • Cross-listing courses

References

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