Stackable Credentials in Career Education at California Community Colleges
By Sarah Bohn, Shannon McConville, Public Policy Institute of California
Career education programs designed to provide students with industry-related training continue to be a focus for state and federal efforts to improve employment outcomes and promote economic mobility. California’s community college system is the state’s primary provider of postsecondary career education and plays a critical role in meeting state workforce needs.
Community colleges serve a wide range of students pursuing career education: recent high school graduates, stranded workers, workers in need of retraining, and more. Connecting these students to career pathways that offer opportunities for advancement is an important policy goal that can be furthered by stackable credentials. Stackable credential pathways consist of multiple, sequential awards that either allow students to earn successively higher-level credentials (“progressive” programs) or build a “lattice” of interconnected credentials. However, little is known about how many career education programs include stackable credentials or how many students successfully stack credentials. In this report, we aim to quantify both.
We focus on students in five of the largest career education disciplines offered in the community college system who obtain a short-term certificate (requiring 6–29 units) as their first community college award, examining their odds of stacking additional credentials (certificates or associate degrees). We also identify features of stackable credential sequences across colleges and estimate whether programs with more well-defined stackable designs facilitate stacking. Key findings include:
As the community college system strives to rebrand and strengthen its career education programs, it is essential to understand how these programs can be structured to promote career pathways and connect students to the career opportunities they seek. Well-designed stackable credential pathways can also help the state train workers for the middle-skills jobs essential to a robust economy.
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This study was supported by ECMC Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Sutton Family Fund.
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