"Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters" (With gratitude to Simon and Garfunkel for their inspiration)

Ad Hoc Noncredit Committee

What do the following community college students have in common?
Steve's life was one of trying to survive. He dropped out of high school and a wrong move in the wrong crowd ended with him serving time. He has now turned his life around by realizing what education could give him when he enrolled in a noncredit adult high school diploma program at his local community college. Through the encouragement of his family, peers and noncredit teachers and counselor, he successfully attained his high school diploma with a 3.0 grade point average and is now attending credit classes at his local community college.

Carmen first started learning English in 2001 at a noncredit ESL program at her local community college and is now helping others learn as a volunteer. She is a mother, wife and works part-time while taking ESL classes three days a week. Carmen is now attending credit classes at her local community college to further her education.

Miryam was an immigrant and a young married mother who worked in a fast food restaurant. She began taking noncredit ESL classes at a community college, and then took classes at the noncredit adult high school diploma program at the same college. She received her diploma in June 2005, and then enrolled in the noncredit Pharmacy Technician Certificate program also at the same college. She successfully earned her Certificate and will work as a Pharmacy Technician while taking credit classes at the same college, in order to complete the Nursing Program. She eventually wants to continue her education to become a doctor.

Vinrey was a 22 year-old mother who dropped out of high school and works two minimum wage jobs. A caring person supported her return to school and she earned her high school diploma in a local noncredit high school diploma program at a local community college. This noncredit adult high school diploma program had a special "transition to college program" called ACE-"Adult College Entry." This noncredit to credit transition program helped her to learn to navigate the entry process into college life as well as how to be a successful college student. Vinrey is taking noncredit vocational classes in the noncredit medical assistant program and now her goal is to graduate from the same college in credit classes for a career in nursing.

There are thousands of stories like these happening every day. Like one in four AS/AA degree earners statewide, these students began their educational journey into credit classes at a community college by starting in noncredit instructional programs.1 Using noncredit as "a bridge over troubled waters" and life obstacles is an important steppingstone to a college education for many lacking basic skills, high school diplomas, English language proficiency, vocational training and the ability to compete in today's global economy. These students are mostly working adults with families and life obligations; high percentages are disadvantaged and minorities, and are not yet ready or able to embark on the community college journey. These students need the flexibility of embarking on this educational journey with noncredit or adult education classes. These classes are free, open entry/open exit, accessible, with flexible hours and ability to repeat a course when needed, such as with changing work schedules or childcare issues.

It's important to note that not all noncredit students have transitioning into credit as a goal. Some may be learning English to get a better job or to function better in the community. Some are increasing their job skills and earning noncredit certificates that certify them for employment in a career field. Others are taking a variety of classes for lifelong learning. But this article will concentrate solely on the critical role noncredit can play as a steppingstone to a college education and further vocational training.

The troubled water that so many potential students are navigating now is captured in the glaring statistics and warnings2 that have all of us in the educational field so concerned:

  • A statewide 30% high school drop out rate, as high as 60% in some areas
  • Upwards of 80% of students entering community colleges need basic skills
  • Over half of the low-income households are headed by an adult lacking a high school diploma and over one million Californians between the ages of 18 and 25 lack a high school diploma
  • An estimated 75% of new jobs in today's economy require some level of post-secondary education
  • By 2015 an estimated 600,000 additional students will enroll in Community Colleges in California (Tidal Wave II) and many will be low income or first generation college students3
  • A second Hidden Tidal Wave of more than 750,000 students who are not high school graduates, as well as adult learners, workforce participants, and unskilled/under-skilled workers, all need college education
  • California faces a growing crisis of undereducated citizens that imperils the state's economic and social future

So, how can the community college system respond to meet this growing educational crisis? What can individual faculty do?

One strategy is to "build bridges" for students who need them to successfully transition into our colleges. The community colleges have already responded to this call with many "bridges" such as creating high school to college articulation with projects like the Statewide Career Pathways and the Basic Skills Initiative which are promoting both credit and noncredit basic skills to bridge the education gap. There are some colleges that have wonderful examples of effective practices and strategies, both large and small, which support students transitioning into college from high schools, noncredit, and K-12 Adult Education. Hopefully these can be shared at future Plenary Session breakouts. However, there are still too many instances where colleges have missed opportunities for this collaboration.

The community colleges are uniquely able to help address these challenges in a number of ways and having a noncredit program at their college provides a two-way bridge for noncredit and credit to meet different student needs. Not only can they help transition noncredit students to credit, but they can offer their credit students educational support with no-fee, open entry/open exit non-credit classes and learning labs. About half of the students utilizing noncredit classes in California are actually credit students! And statewide, 33% of credit students receiving an AA/AS degree accessed noncredit at one point in their degree pursuit.4

Does your college offer any noncredit ESL, noncredit basic skills, or noncredit vocational training? If not, or if you only offer a minimal number of noncredit classes, please consider the role noncredit can play in your college mission in reaching those students in your community who are not yet college-ready and helping them to transition to college, jobs, and a better life.

If you do offer noncredit ESL, noncredit basic skills, and noncredit vocational training, are those programs isolated in "silos"? Have your credit and noncredit faculty and programs collaborated to build informal and formal articulation and linkages? Are credit and noncredit faculty and counselors having the dialogues they need to have in order to build seamless pathways into credit programs and for credit students to utilize noncredit to support their success in credit classes?

How many community colleges are reaching out to their local K-12 Adult Education students? If you have few noncredit offerings at your college, but your community has a K-12 Adult Education program, consider building pathways to your college by collaborating with your Adult Education faculty with both informal and formal articulation. Often the students in K-12 Adult Education programs are even more isolated than those in community college noncredit programs, yet they are in a unique position to work with the colleges to be a bridge to higher education.

One possible strategy to build bridges for students to move up the educational ladder is to create special transition programs for students to use noncredit elementary and secondary basic skills classes (including community college adult high school diploma programs offered in noncredit). Many of these students need extra support, encouragement, and preparation to plant seeds of real success and possibilities, where before they might not have existed. In one community college district, a program called "Adult College Entry" is jointly supported by noncredit student services and instruction collaborating with credit faculty, counselors, and programs. It offers special counseling, college prep classes, cohort support, and small group support for those students who otherwise would become discouraged and not pursue a college degree or college vocational certificate. If replicated at other colleges, these types of programs could build those needed pathways to college.

Another example of an effective strategy for pathways is to offer "dual-listed" community college courses. (Your college may have a different name for these classes. However, dual-listed courses are different than "concurrent" or "dual" enrollment, which typically refers to high school students who simultaneously earn college credit from a community college.) Formal research still needs to confirm the degree of effectiveness of dual-listed classes, but for those colleges offering them, anecdotal reports of success are already abundant. Although a common practice, not all colleges who have noncredit offer "dual-listed" courses. So what is a "dual-listed course" and how does it promote pathways to credit?

Many noncredit students do not have the confidence to make the big step into credit classes, so a "safe" option is to sign up for a noncredit-credit "dual-listed" class.

A credit class (often vocational) will leave open some seats (i.e. 5 per class) for noncredit students to sign up for the same class, except they will be taking it as a noncredit class. They experience a credit class without worrying about a grade or possible failure. Many noncredit students then gain the confidence they need when they have a successful experience and are often able to make the transition to credit. Sometimes they can receive credit for the dual-listed course they took by successfully passing a credit-by-exam, which gives them a jump start into college. However, not all courses offer credit-by-exam, so it would be a good strategy to encourage faculty to have this available where appropriate. Credit courses (that are not dual-listed) can offer credit-by-exam options for students who also may have taken a noncredit course that is equivalent to a credit course and students can use this to step into the credit path. Another way to help transition noncredit students in dual-listed courses is to have the faculty and counselors agree to waive the successfully completed dual-listed course as a prerequisite into the next level course.

In keeping with current dialogues on this issue, in Fall 2007, the Academic Senate adopted a resolution "Credit-Noncredit Dialogue" which supports using noncredit courses as bridges to credit:

9.08 F07 Credit-Noncredit Dialogue
Whereas, Noncredit courses provide students with a less intimidating means of beginning a college career, students who otherwise might not view a college certificate or degree as an attainable goal;

Whereas, Credit by exam is an option, where available, for students to demonstrate that they have achieved the objectives of a course and to be granted college credit for that course; and

Whereas, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges supports the use of noncredit courses as a bridge to credit programs and courses;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges encourage a dialogue between faculty who teach credit and faculty who teach noncredit courses, to discuss topics such as course rigor, teaching and assessment methods, goals, and means for aiding the transition from noncredit to credit programs and courses; and

Resolved, That the Academic Senate of the California Community Colleges encourage credit faculty to consider developing credit by exam options for credit courses that have noncredit equivalents, where appropriate.

These are only a few of the many ways that credit and noncredit faculty and their colleges can work together to build bridges for noncredit students to transition to credit programs and for credit students to utilize noncredit to support their efforts in credit.

Think about starting or expanding noncredit instruction at your college! Noncredit and credit in the community colleges can be an unbeatable team to support the many students who would otherwise fall through the cracks of a needed educational continuum.

There may be many strategies to address the needs of California's future, but this is one that we can work on in our colleges, one class at a time, and one student at a time..

Dulce arrived in California in 2004. She enrolled in a noncredit ESL program at a local community college and started at the beginning level. She later started taking dual-listed credit/noncredit classes at the same college at ESL 80 level. She also enrolled in the noncredit adult high school diploma program and earned her high school diploma in 2007. After successfully finishing the dual-listed levels she enrolled in regular credit classes at the college. Currently she is a full-time student at the college and is already taking English 100. Her goal is to complete her associate degree and transfer to the university. She wants to major in History and minor in Linguistics.

1 Smith, Leslie, 2006. Noncredit: The Educational Gateway. City College of San Francisco. A PowerPoint presentation to the Board of Governors on July 9, 2006, California Community Colleges: Sacramento. Available at https:/www.ccsf.edu/Offices/Government_Affairs/.
2 California Community Colleges System Office, "Californians Lacking Basic Academic Skills:, April 2006
3 California Community Colleges Board of Governors (CCCBOG). 2006. California Community Colleges System Strategic Plan. Accessed at http://www.cccco.edu/strat_plan/strat_plan.htm.
4 Smith, Leslie, 2006. Noncredit: The Educational Gateway. City College of San Francisco. A PowerPoint presentation to the Board of Governors on July 9, 2006, California Community Colleges: Sacramento. Available at https:/www.ccsf.edu/Offices/Government_Affairs/. (Statistic does not include credit students taking noncredit supervised tutoring)