Noncredit Instruction in Guided Pathways Efforts

ASCCC Curriculum Committee Chair
ASCCC Curriculum Committee, Woodland Community College
ASCCC Guided Pathways Task Force Chair
ASCCC Guided Pathways Task Force, Mt. San Antonio College

With the implementation of the California Community Colleges Guided Pathways Grant Program and AB 705 (Irwin, 2017), faculty requests increased statewide, asking for direction on how to effectively incorporate noncredit instruction to meet the educational needs of diverse student populations. In response, the delegates to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) Spring 2018 Plenary Session passed Resolution S18 17.01, Noncredit Instruction in Guided Pathways Efforts. This resolution called for the ASCCC to provide professional development on career development and college preparation (CDCP) noncredit instruction in support of college guided pathways efforts. Venues for such professional development often include Rostrum articles, conference presentations, position papers, webinars, and local academic senate visits.

Initially, this resolution was addressed in the 2019 ASCCC position paper Noncredit Instruction: Opportunity and Challenge. That paper consists of comprehensive and valuable requirements, examples, and recommendations for colleges to consider when implementing or expanding noncredit offerings. The paper also calls for the inclusion of noncredit instruction in the guided pathways efforts as follows:

Credit and noncredit programs should work together to provide students, instructors, and counselors with a clear understanding of all of the career and academic pathways available at the college…students who are on a pathway to a credit career technical certificate, an associate degree, or transfer should be presented with the support options noncredit can offer to build basic skills at no cost to the students without affecting their financial aid status when such support is beneficial. (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2019, p.18)

Noncredit instruction has a long history in the California Community Colleges and provides pathways for adult learners who need more preparation for college-level coursework, are returning to school, are unemployed and seeking employment, or are employed and seeking career advancement, as well as for English language learners so that they can successfully complete their college education and enter or advance in the workforce. CDCP noncredit instruction, which is often understated as an onboarding process, contributes significantly and directly to the four-pillar model of guided pathways.


Noncredit instruction is limited to the following areas according to Education Code §84757:

  1. Parenting, including parent cooperative preschools, classes in child growth and development and parent-child relationships.
  2. Elementary and secondary basic skills and other courses and classes such as remedial academic courses or classes in reading, mathematics, and language arts.
  3. English as a second language.
  4. Classes and courses for immigrants eligible for educational services in citizenship, English as a second language, and work force preparation classes in the basic skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing, mathematics, decision making and problem solving skills, and other classes required for preparation to participate in job-specific technical training.
  5. Education programs for persons with substantial disabilities.
  6. Short-term vocational programs with high employment potential.
  7. Education programs for older adults.
  8. Education programs for home economics.
  9. Health and safety education.

Of the nine allowable areas of noncredit, four qualify for CDCP funding according to Title 5 §55151: numbers 2, 3, 7, and 4 except for citizenship classes. Such courses are funded at the same apportionment level as credit courses per SB 860 (2014), now codified in California Education Code §84750.5(d)(4)(A)(i), provided they are included with at least one other course in a certificate of completion or a certificate of competency. Noncredit courses that are part of CDCP certificate programs prepare students to obtain employment or to transition into college-level credit courses and programs. A certificate of competency is a sequence of noncredit courses that prepares students to transition into coursework that leads to a credit certificate, an associate degree, or transfer to a baccalaureate institution. A certificate of completion is a set of noncredit courses that prepares students to progress in a career pathway or take degree applicable credit courses, leading to improved employability and job opportunities (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2019).

CDCP noncredit instruction serves as an essential pathway for underprepared students to enter and successfully complete college-level credit academic and career programs. These courses can also serve as an entry point for students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations who might not otherwise consider college a possibility.


Noncredit support courses for English and mathematics can be offered in coordination with credit transfer-level courses. Colleges should consider whether support is primarily needed for the duration of a course or whether specific topics should be covered at specific points in a course at which students struggle.

“Mirrored” noncredit support courses can be used to accommodate students who do not need or want the credit version of a support course. Mirrored courses are approved through the curriculum process in noncredit and in credit. The course outlines of record for the two courses should be the same in regard to description, objectives, learning outcomes, and assignments. The two courses are then offered and taught together at the same time, in the same place, and with the same instructor. While this mirrored approach requires instructors to separately record attendance and grades for the two sections, students may not be aware of any difference between who is enrolled in the credit course and who is enrolled in the noncredit course. Such courses cover topics that are below transfer-level English and mathematics; hence, they fit into the noncredit category for basic skills.

Short-term noncredit academic intervention courses for English and mathematics can be offered to prepare students who plan on enrolling in transfer-level English or mathematics but do not feel ready and to provide a safety net for those who dropped from these transfer-level courses to help them stay on their educational path. For example, Mt. San Antonio College offers three noncredit courses monthly specifically for this purpose: Math Preparation for Statistic Success, Math Preparation for Business, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (BSTEM) Success, and English Preparation for College Success.


Some colleges have moved fundamental skill-building courses into noncredit. At Woodland Community College, for example, the business department made this change for Introduction to Computing and Introduction to Computer Keyboarding. These two courses are linked in a CDCP certificate of completion for business computer applications basics. This practice supports workforce development but also supports students who may be taking credit classes in business or any other discipline that has an advisory of computer skills.

Similarly, Mt. San Antonio College offers a noncredit support course that is embedded in the CDCP certificate of completion for emergency medical technician (EMT), which leads to credit career technical education certificates including paramedic, fire technology, and fire officer. This competency-based course is a contextualized reading and writing course including research paper writing skills, is part of the basic EMT curriculum, and is mandated as part of paramedic training. It was developed in collaboration with credit public safety faculty.

As another example, Mt. San Antonio College offers a short-term competency-based noncredit pre-nursing support course. This course was developed in collaboration with nursing faculty in order to prepare students for the Health Education Systems Incorporated assessment test, which is part of the application process for the associate degree in nursing program. The course covers a contextualized math skills review including algebra and statistics along with anatomy basics, medical terminology, study skills, reading textbooks, and writing skills review.


Integrated education and training (IET) has recently become an integral part of noncredit ESL instruction per Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II Criteria. The IET model combines language instruction with workforce preparation—the English literacy and civics objectives, as defined in WIOA Section 243—and workforce training; it requires that students enrolled in a noncredit ESL course concurrently enroll in a noncredit or credit CTE course in order to increase the students’ educational and career advancement. The IET delivery model utilizes team teaching where career technical education and ESL faculty co-teach in the same classroom or where they alternatingly teach in two different classrooms.

As part of the Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) program, Mt. San Antonio College offers accounting and healthcare career pathways that satisfy WIOA requirements for IETs. For the accounting IET, the program simultaneously offers a contextualized ESL course for accounting and a financial and database management course that will lead to the CDCP certificate of completion for financial and database management. As for the healthcare IET, VESL offers an ESL course for health professionals as part of the in-home support services (IHSS) program, which leads to the IHSS Certificate, also a CDCP certificate of completion. For both pathways and IETs, an English literacy and civics objective is integrated into the curriculum of each ESL course.

As colleges work on planning and implementing institutional guided pathways redesign, noncredit is an important option that can support all tenets of guided pathways efforts, which are often characterized in a Four Pillar Model:

Pillar 1 (Clarify the Path): CDCP noncredit instruction serves as an essential pathway for underprepared students to enter and successfully complete college-level credit academic and career programs.

Pillar 2 (Enter the Path): CDCP pathways can be incorporated into the college’s guided self-placement or onboarding processes to help students enter into a pathway in which evidence shows a student will be most successful.

Pillar 3 (Stay on the Path): Noncredit courses can provide support in basic skills at no cost to students without affecting their financial aid status, particularly for transfer level mathematics and English courses in the wake of AB 705.

Pillar 4 (Ensure Learning): Noncredit courses can aid students in building confidence in their own abilities to succeed, ensure student learning is able to take place, and provide a foundation to meet students’ own transfer goals.

While noncredit instruction can be used to support guided pathways efforts in all of the ways described above, colleges will likely need additional information and resources as they further their pathways implementation. To meet this anticipated need and in response to ASCCC Resolution S18 17.01, in January 2020 the ASCCC Guided Pathways Task Force formed a small workgroup in partnership with representatives from the ASCCC Curriculum Committee and the ASCCC Noncredit and Basic Skills Committee. The work of this group will be to provide additional guidance to colleges through future Rostrum articles, webinars, and presentations at various ASCCC events such as the Career and Noncredit Education Institute and the Curriculum Institute.

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2019, Spring) Noncredit Instruction: Opportunity and Challenge. Retrieved from the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges website:
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2019). Program and Course Approval Handbook. 7th Edition. Retrieved from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website:…