In the face of broad and unprecedented change represented by the guided pathways movement and legislation such as Assembly Bill (AB) 705 (Irwin, 2017) that supports many of the principles of guided pathways, faculty are looking for opportunities to be creative and student-focused in their responses to that change. Noncredit curriculum and instruction, frequently looked upon as one of the “lesser angels” of a college’s offerings, is enjoying a renaissance of discussion and invention that is only just beginning as college’s begin ramping up discussions around guided pathways and AB 705 legislation.
Noncredit in a Guided Pathways Framework
Beginning with the 2015-2016 state budget, the apportionment rate for Career Development and College Preparation (CDCP) noncredit courses, also known as “enhanced noncredit,” was made equal to that of credit courses. The intent of the legislature was threefold: (1) to support the expansion of noncredit career education programs that typically have higher equipment costs and lower faculty to student ratios, (2) to improve program quality by providing an incentive to hire more full-time faculty in noncredit, and (3) to provide financial incentives to increase the availability of noncredit CTE in order to meet workforce needs. While there are ten allowable categories of noncredit courses, CDCP certificates must consist of noncredit courses that fit within the following four noncredit categories: elementary and secondary basic skills, workforce preparation, short-term vocational program, and English as a second language/vocational English as a second language. Regardless of the original legislative intent, the increased CDCP apportionment rate provides colleges with an opportunity to use CDCP noncredit instruction as a tool to provide guided pathways onramps into college credit transfer and career education programs for students who are unprepared or underprepared for college-level coursework.
One of the four pillars of guided pathways is to create clear curricular pathways to employment and further education. While many often think of guided pathways in terms of credit programs of study, particularly those that lead to transfer, CDCP noncredit aligns fully with this pillar of guided pathways. In order for noncredit courses to qualify for CDCP apportionment rate, those courses must be part of either noncredit certificate of competency or certificate of completion programs of study. CDCP certificates provide coherent programmatic pathways that lead to clear, intentional outcomes, such as onramps into credit programs of study in career education or transfer programs (certificate of competency), or directly into the workforce by improving employability (certificate of completion).
For example, at San Diego Continuing Education, a noncredit college in the San Diego Community College District, the Auto Body and Paint Technician certificate program, is designed for entry-level employment in auto body repair. On the other hand, the Automotive Technician Program is designed for both entry-level employment and entry into the credit program at San Diego Miramar College, with the noncredit courses taken at San Diego Continuing Education being articulated for credit at San Diego Miramar College to meet the program requirements. At Mt. San Antonio College, the School of Continuing Education offers a certificate of competency in basic skills to improve reading, writing, and mathematics skills in order to prepare students for either the workforce or college-level programs. They also offer certificates of completion in fields such as healthcare, which are intended to prepare students for both direct entry into the workforce and as onramps into related credit degree and certificate programs. In each of these examples, the intent is to provide necessary on ramping for students to succeed in their chosen pathways, with the additional benefit of being flexible and of no cost to students.
Assessment, Placement, and Noncredit
In addition to the ways that noncredit may find its way into a local college’s guided pathways framework, noncredit is receiving significant attention as colleges grapple with ways to comply with AB 705 (Irwin, 2017). The legislation places restrictions around placement of students into mathematics, English, and English as a Second Language (ESL). Colleges are required to use multiple measures placement that must include high school transcript data and are not allowed to place a student into a course sequence that prohibits them from completing a transfer-level math or English course in one year unless that multiple measures placement data shows they are “highly unlikely” to succeed in the transfer-level course without it. The same restrictions apply to English as a Second Language students; however ESL students are allowed three years to complete transfer-level English.
So how could noncredit fit in? Faculty might consider repurposing existing noncredit coursework or creating new noncredit courses to meet student needs around developmental education. Noncredit courses may be useful as prerequisites or corequisites to credit courses in the math and English sequence to support students to complete the transfer courses within the one year time frame required by the law. Such courses could be packaged as CDCP certificates so that they qualify for the CDCP apportionment rate, making them cost-effective for the college. While it still remains to be seen how adding noncredit courses as requisites to credit will fit into a developmental education program in terms of the one-year timeline, starting conversations now around the possibilities, the barriers (real and perceived), and the necessary curriculum and resources needed to expand noncredit could prove fruitful in the future.
In addition to the requisite models, support classes in noncredit may also be useful to help students tackle the more strident coursework they might face when college’s redesign their placement practices to comply with AB 705. The flexibility provided by noncredit could give rise to modularized coursework that supports students in their English, math, and ESL courses by providing the specialized instruction they need without having to take an entire semester or quarter-length course. And finally, an additional option for supporting students to complete their transfer level courses are student success classes that focus on study skills contextualized to English, math or ESL.
Final Thoughts to Consider
In a recent report “The Past, Present and Future of Noncredit Education in California” from the San Diego Continuing Education, 70% of colleges reported offering noncredit courses and/or programs. 51% offer ESL noncredit while 30% offer adult basic education and another 28% offer CTE coursework and programs. Those numbers indicate that there are promising examples of noncredit in action, even though there is much room for expanding noncredit offerings. Conversations can, in the near future, focus on "scaling up" courses in noncredit that are working while exploring new areas where noncredit curriculum and instruction can support students.
 See the March 2017 Legislative Analyst Office Report “California Community Colleges: Effects of Increases in Noncredit Funding Rates” at http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2017/3635/CCC-Noncredit-Course-033017.pdf.
 For Chancellor’s Office information on guided pathways, go to http://cccgp.cccco.edu/Guided-Pathways-Electronic-Toolkit. See also Bailey, Jaggars, and Jenkins, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, 2015.
 Catalog descriptions of the noncredit certificate programs at San Diego Continuing Education are available at http://www.sdce.edu/sites/default/files/sdcecatalog1618.pdf.
 For more information on Mt. San Antonio College noncredit programs, go to http://catalog.mtsac.edu/programs/noncredit-programs/programsaz/.
 This report is available at https://sdce.edu/sites/default/files/iep/The_Past_Present_and_Future_of_Noncredit_in_CA.pdf.