Moving from a Degree-Centric Postsecondary System to an Incremental Credentialing System: What Happens to Learners’ Financing Options?

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Incremental Credentialing

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Practices: Learn As You Go


Practices: Learn As You Go

The features of Learn As You Go credentials promote more equitable outcomes, including the ability for credentials to stand on their own or be connected to other credentials. They can also target specific areas of employability and/or support nontraditional learners such as Black students seeking bachelor’s degrees—who are twice as likely as other bachelor’s students to have additional responsibilities as caregivers or full-time workers. In using the Learn As You Go model, it is important to adopt practices such as offering on- and off-ramps for learning and to provide wraparound services.

The Attainment for All: Equity in Postsecondary Pathways briefs explore the challenges and innovative practices involved when colleges offer wraparound services. The goal is to provide holistic support to students from low-income families, who are first-generation, nontraditional, and students of color. Such services provide academic, health, socio-emotional, familial, financial, and logistical support. The briefs share examples of major issues that wraparound services help to address, including lack of flexibility in financial aid, housing insecurity, transportation challenges, mental health issues, and difficulties in balancing work and academics.

Among the examples the briefs highlight is The City University of New York (CUNY)’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which have proven to be effective by research led by MDRC. According to that research, the ASAP program nearly doubled graduation rates for participants after three years, and after six years ASAP participants continued to have higher rates of completion and shorter time to degree. ASAP provides a host of wraparound services for participating students. The program removes financial barriers for students through scholarships, and by offering financial assistance for transportation and the cost of textbooks. Students meet with experienced academic advisors regularly to receive comprehensive academic, social, and personal support. They also meet with career specialists to develop career goals and competencies.

Other wraparound service initiatives include:

  •  The University of Rhode Island, which offers financial assistance to eligible undergraduate student parents.
  •  Belmont University, which gives faculty, staff, and students access to food pantries, meal share options, and self-guided tools and modules that support their mental health.
  •  North Carolina State University, which provides funding to give food-insecure students access to the university’s meal plan.

The North Carolina Community College Child Care Grant Program provides up to $24 per day to assist student-parents with child care expenses while enrolled. Another study demonstrates the value in providing targeted supportive services that help single-mother students meet their families’ basic needs and manage their time demands. The evidence indicates that a combination of child care, case management (also called coaching), and financial assistance can improve single mothers’ ability to graduate. In a set of articles from Goodwill, we see how Chelsea Rucker, a single mother of two, launched a career with Google after completing an IT course. We also meet another single mother, Kara Isreal, who followed a similar path to achieve her lifelong career goal and obtain a job with Accenture.

By partnering with government programs and agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, institutions can increase the likelihood that students will take advantage of the benefits available to them. Additionally, for qualifying students and their families, assistance from programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help eliminate barriers to success in pursuing postsecondary credentials. Some Head Start programs have dedicated partnerships with colleges, offering high-quality child care and other resources to income-eligible families. The National Skills Coalition’s Career Pathways SNAP E&T Project works with five states— Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan, New Mexico, and Virginia—to leverage the SNAP E&T program. The program works to increase postsecondary enrollment and completion, provide supportive services, connect students to quality jobs that offer economic mobility, and meet the needs of local employers.

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