California’s community college system is the state’s primary provider of postsecondary career education and plays a critical role in meeting workforce needs. Stackable credentials are a key component of career education programs—students who “stack” multiple, related awards can build skills and increase their potential to advance in a career over time. As the state continues to invest in career education, it is important to understand how these programs can expand employment opportunities, particularly for students who do not get four-year degrees.
In Sacramento this past Tuesday, PPIC researcher Shannon McConville outlined findings from a new report that identifies stackable credential pathways in several disciplines and looks at whether programs with well-defined pathways facilitate stacking. Building on previous PPIC work on stackable credentials in health care, this new report focuses on several other fields—including business, information technology, and engineering.
Nearly 40% of community college students in career education programs start with short-term certificates, which can be earned relatively quickly. Most return to college after earning a short-term award, but fewer than one in four obtain an additional credential. Making it easier for these students to move along a stackable credential pathway could help them get better jobs and earn higher wages.
PPIC’s analysis of existing programs across the community college system suggests that well-defined pathways with clearly mapped course sequences and multiple exit and reentry points do increase the odds of students stacking credentials. It also indicates that few programs have course and credential sequences that are designed to be stackable. Expanding the number of programs with clearly designated stackable features could go a long way toward strengthening the links between career education and long-term employment opportunities.