The Proposal to Increase Funding for Noncredit Instruction

Chair of Relations With Local Senates Committee

The funding formula recommendations that initially came out of a group of Chief Business Officers (CBO) convened by the Community College League of California (CCLC), Report of the Workgroup on Community College Finance, have been widely disseminated and have generated much discussion throughout the system. That document proposes a new allocation model for distribution of community college funding at the system level. Although the concepts contained in that document are undergoing some revision during these spring months, we should still strive to understand each of the recommendations in the original document and their potential consequences if they were to be adopted and implemented.

One of the recommendations focuses on increasing funding for non-credit instruction. Although 29% of community college students are enrolled in some form of noncredit instruction, far fewer than 29% of noncredit instructors are actively involved in their local senates. At a typical plenary session of the Academic Senate, noncredit faculty represent less than 3% of attendees. In addition, while most colleges offer at least one course in noncredit instruction, more than threefourths of the FTES generated by noncredit classes come from just 22 colleges. Therefore, it is not surprising that most local senates are uncertain what to think of the noncredit instruction funding recommendation. The purpose of this article is to provide additional background on noncredit instruction to better help all local senates understand the potential implications of the recommendation as it appears in the original CBO/CCLC document.

Most faculty senate presidents have limited interaction with noncredit instruction, so I begin with a brief description of some of the features of noncredit instruction that differ from those of credit instruction. First, it is important to emphasize that noncredit courses are not the same as non-degree applicable courses. The latter are credit courses, the units for which are not applicable towards graduation with an AA/AS. Non-degree applicable courses are typically comprised of college-preparatory courses such as basic skills and English as a Second Language (ESL). In addition to the fact that noncredit courses generate no college credit of any type for students, noncredit courses have a different attendance/funding structure. Noncredit courses are typically open-enrollment, open-exit. This means a student is permitted to join a class at any time during the semester and to leave a class at any time during the semester. Many students enrolled in noncredit courses hold jobs, often full time. Education is often a secondary pursuit, and it is not uncommon for students to abandon a course mid-semester and retake the course more than once. Students do not receive grades, and completion of a course may only be significant in that it allows a student to progress to a course at a higher level. Noncredit courses do not lead to certificates or degrees, although many noncredit courses may be vocational and address specific job skills. Apportionment is calculated by positive attendance. Colleges receive apportionment for the actual seat-time students spend in a classroom. For credit courses, a census at the end of week three determines the enrollment for the whole semester, whether a student attends every class or just one class every two weeks. The load for noncredit faculty is generally 25 hours/week (there is no distinction made between lab and lecture among noncredit courses), while credit faculty have a class timeload that ranges from 15 hours (all lecture) to 22 hours (all lab). With this background information in hand, let us now move onto an examination of the specific recommendation and its possible implications.

The CBO/CCLC workgroup recommendation on noncredit instruction (item I-D in the document), mostly offered for discussion purposes only, proposes that the Academic Senate, in conjunction with appropriate groups, identify TOP codes that fall under the areas of English as a Second Language, Citizenship, Remediation and Basic Skills, and Vocational or Occupational Education. These programs would be targeted for an increase in apportionment that would bring funding for these programs up to that currently received by credit programs. Currently, noncredit programs are funded at about 56% of the rate for credit programs. The recommendation also stipulates that noncredit programs that receive the higher funding be held to standards that are closely aligned with the requirements of credit programs:

Finally, any improvement in non-credit funding should include standards to ensure that non-credit programs receiving the higher level of funding more closely align with the requirements of credit programs. (p. 9)

There have been two initial responses to this proposal. On the one side, faculty have expressed concern that the proposal creates two tiers of noncredit programs. As efforts to achieve equalization in apportionment show, faculty are generally quite egalitarian when it comes to funding, and the singling out of specific programs for increased funding sets off alarm bells. On the other side, longstanding advocates for an increase in noncredit funding see this not as a dividing of the noncredit house but rather as an important first step towards the goal of increased funding for all noncredit programs. Credit faculty have also expressed concern over the proposal since a successful division of programs into two tiers for noncredit might later be applied to credit programs as well. Regardless of which perspective one holds, all faculty should be vigilant about where the funds come from should the recommendation be adopted. Should funding for a segment of noncredit instruction increase, the hope is that this increase would be above and beyond what is currently in the system budget. As we have seen all too often in recent budgets, however, there is a danger that funds will simply be shifted around, increasing the funding for noncredit through a reduction elsewhere.

The issue of funding ties directly to how much of noncredit instruction is covered by the workgroup proposal. Noncredit classes generated approximately 76,300 FTES in apportionment in 2002-2003 and encompass 183 TOP codes. ESL topped the list in FTES generation with 20,708.51, and this ranges down to Corrections, which generated 0.02 FTES. The top 24 FTES-generating TOP codes generated 62,170 FTES, three-fourths of the total. Of these 24, based on my personal review, thirteen do not fall under the categories tentatively listed in the proposal, comprising 18,285 FTES. These TOP codes include Physical Fitness and Body Movement, Music, Gerontology, Health Education, and Art.

As stated in the recommendation, the Academic Senate is called on to make the determination about which TOP codes fall within the scope of the subject areas earmarked for increased funding. While this is well and good, it is important to note that the Academic Senate has not yet been involved in the more important determination of which subject areas will be targeted for greater funding. Serious concerns have already been voiced by noncredit faculty involved in programs for older adults and why such programs were left off the list. At this point, the Academic Senate finds that further discussion and consultation needs to take place concerning the subject areas chosen before a review of TOPs codes takes place.

The second part of the proposal calls for an alignment of noncredit and credit quality standards should additional funding be provided. This one-sentence recommendation carries enormous implications for noncredit programs given the differences in current quality standards between credit and noncredit and between noncredit programs themselves. Four areas comprise most concerns in this area: minimum qualifications for instructors, the 75:25 full-time/part-time ratio, curriculum approval processes, and accreditation of programs.

Minimum qualifications for instructors for noncredit are generally lower. For example, in the areas of Basic Skills and ESL, credit courses require a Master's Degree or the equivalent, while noncredit courses require only a Bachelor's Degree and some additional coursework. In the occupational areas, both noncredit and credit require at least a Bachelor's Degree or an Associate's Degree plus occupational experience. Furthermore, the 75:25 full-time/part-time ratio called for in Education Code and Title 5 only applies to faculty in credit programs (Title 5 51025, 53308, and 53302). In looking at the three largest noncredit programs housed within the San Diego Community College District, the City College of San Francisco, and the North Orange County Community College District, we can see how the impact of moving noncredit standards for the hiring of faculty closer to those for credit programs may vary. At City College of San Francisco (CCSF), all instructors, both credit and noncredit, are subject to the minimum qualifications for credit instruction. Therefore, there would be little effect on CCSF faculty with this change. However, the two sets of minimum qualifications for credit and noncredit faculty are used by the programs in San Diego and Orange County. Would current faculty in these two noncredit programs meet the minimum qualifications required for credit instruction? In addition, noncredit programs are overwhelmingly staffed by part-time faculty. What effect would subjecting noncredit programs to the 75:25 calculation have on college hiring priorities? It is clear that a joint review of the implications of the effect on faculty by senates and their colleagues in bargaining units needs to happen.

The impact on course quality involves a look at curriculum approval and accreditation. The curriculum approval processes for credit and noncredit differ. All noncredit courses must be approved by the System Office, while for credit courses, only stand-alone courses and programs of more than 18 units need to be approved separately. Local senates need to consider how a move to more closely align the quality of noncredit courses to credit courses may impact local processes. Will such a move shift curricular review from one of noncredit courses to noncredit programs, and will such programs need to be articulated with their credit counterparts? Will the change increase or decrease the workload for local curriculum committees?

Accreditation is also handled separately. Accreditation through the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) is required only for credit programs. Noncredit community college programs can be accredited by the Schools Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which is responsible for accrediting all schools below the college level, including adult schools. With some noncredit programs, colleges choose to integrate accreditation efforts to cover both credit and noncredit under one umbrella using the ACCJC standards, bringing noncredit onto equal footing with credit. With other programs, the accreditation process and self-study for the two program divisions are handled separately, submitted to two different agencies, and may even occur in different years. Bringing both credit and noncredit programs under one accreditation process may serve to consolidate college accreditation efforts. However, there may be significant adjustment in moving the review of noncredit programs from the WASC standards to those of the ACCJC. Given the large part-time faculty in noncredit, there is also the question of sufficient faculty to handle accreditation responsibilities.

Beyond the issues of which courses should be funded and how changes in quality standards may affect faculty and curriculum, the possible increase in noncredit funding raises other questions as well. Should the funding for noncredit reach parity with credit courses, will colleges move more or all of their basic skills courses into noncredit? Currently, noncredit instructors teach from three to ten hours more per week than their credit counterparts. What effect will moving more courses into noncredit have on faculty load? Will colleges move non-degree applicable courses into noncredit because faculty teach more hours? Will noncredit instruction be able to maintain the open-entry open-exit structure that currently addresses the needs of many noncredit students?

The workgroup recommendation on noncredit funding has enormous implications for community colleges. I hope that I have given you enough background and raised some issues to prompt you to continue informed discussion on this issue on your campus.


California Community Colleges System Office. (2005, January 11). "Noncredit Instruction-A Portal to the Future," Board of Governors Agenda Item 7.1. Community College League of California. (2004 September). Report of the Workgroup on Community College Finance. Sacramento: Author.