The City University of New York (CUNY) is the nation’s largest urban public university, consisting of seven open-access community colleges, 11 senior colleges, and seven graduate and professional schools. The colleges are distributed across the city and serve 243,000 degree-seeking students and approximately 200,000 noncredit/continuing education students annually. Recent system and state policy developments are positioned to offer additional support and completion momentum to current and future CUNY students. Three years ago, CUNY’s Board of Trustees established a policy that requires all CUNY colleges to have an official user-friendly process for applying Credit for Prior Learning to college credit degrees and certificates. This policy is now active at all CUNY institutions. In addition, the state of New York expanded eligibility for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to part-time students effective immediately, enabling at least 30,000 more learners to receive aid. The program requires matriculation into a college credit program of study, something which micro-pathways accelerate since all are designed with credits that apply to higher learning. Final regulations are being established that include resources available to non-citizens who reside in the state. In addition to policy partners, CUNY schools also benefit from a partnership with the New York Jobs CEO Council, that connects colleges to corporations throughout the New York metropolitan area to enrich training programs and expedite job placement for completers.
CUNY colleges that were part of the Community College Growth Engine’s first cohort include Kingsborough, Queensborough, Borough of Manhattan, and LaGuardia community colleges.
LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) was founded in 1971 as part of CUNY and is located in Long Island City, Queens, NY. It is led by President Kenneth Adams and serves nearly 27,000 students from 145 countries speaking 77 languages. Approximately 36% of its student body is enrolled in the division of Adult and Continuing Education (ACE), 80% of whom are Hispanic or Black. ACE students can choose from 70 areas of study knowing that ACE will help them develop the skills required to thrive in a living-wage job, whether they are changing careers, advancing in their fields, or preparing to enter the workforce for the first time.
What is a micro-pathway?
Co-designed with learners and employers, micro-pathways are defined as two or more stackable credentials, including a 21st century skill micro-credential, that are flexibly delivered to be achieved within less than a year and result in a job at or above the local median wage, and start learner-earners on the path to an associate degree.
CUNY LaGuardia Community College designed three micro-pathways in Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, and Community Health.
LAGCC’s Data Analytics Certificate leads to a career as an entry-level Data Analyst. Download the PDF.
LAGCC’s Cybersecurity Certificate leads to a career as a cybersecurity professional. Download the PDF.
LAGCC’s Community Health Worker Certificate leads to a career as a Community Health Worker. Download the PDF.
Engaging employers from the start helped transform the curriculum. Bringing in key employer partners at the outset and maintaining continuous communication as program modules were updated brought employers more deeply into the specifics than ever before. Moving from generic occupational planning conversations to job-specific, co-development sessions yielded multiple benefits that included guidance on specific required skills and introducing learners to potential employers.
The Lab’s T-Profile tool accelerated the transformation of college-employer relationships. LaGuardia leaders used the T-Profile to engage employers and reaffirm the most essential technical and 21st century skills for in-demand jobs. This enabled discipline experts at the college to adjust the curriculum knowing their students would emerge highly qualified. The T-Profile is now being used more broadly to align the many ways the college interacts with regional employers. The process supports continuous engagement between college leaders, learners, and industry partners to the benefit of all.
Sometimes changes to an existing program can be transformational. An example can be found in the Community Health Worker micro-pathway. A significant number of 21st century skills were already present in the curriculum, but the focus was sharpened with additional practice and assessment to ensure students had full mastery of specific skills valued by employers. A related example in the same program was the addition of a micro-credential focused on technology for healthcare professionals. This new course enabled students to be competitive for jobs involving electronic documentation and case management.
21st century skills have been added to all workforce training programs. Many existing workforce training programs included 21st century skills, but they were not practiced or assessed in a way that ensured learners could demonstrate their related competencies to potential employers. LAGCC used the Lab’s 21st century skill framework and conferred with faculty leaders and employers to elevate the skills most critical specific job positions. All programs now feature at least one 21st century skill and completers receive badges through a cooperative agreement with another department on campus.
Strategic attention was dedicated to aligning credit and noncredit pathways which makes stackable credentials a reality. LaGuardia’s micro-pathways offer completers between three and nine credits that apply toward degrees and certificates in college credit programs. Higher learning opportunities and the associated career options are highlighted throughout training to reinforce upward mobility for learners and make advanced training a natural next step.
Internships drive program design for the micro-pathways. LaGuardia’s Community Health Worker micro-pathway, for example, is designed to be relevant to multiple populations of learners ranging from high school students to incumbent workers employed in the industry. All learners in this micro-pathway participate in a 125-hour internship. These internships keep a group of nearly 50 regional employers continuously engaged with the program and serve as effective off-ramps to jobs as learners complete their credentials.
Programs designed to serve incumbent workers are a hallmark of the micro-pathway programs. Learners already familiar with Data Analytics, for example, can skip the program’s introductory course and start advanced skills training immediately. In addition, employers eager to retain current talent have underwritten training costs and have given completers first consideration for internal promotions.
Obstacles + opportunities
Program expansion and stability requires permanent sources of funding for learners and for the design and development of micro-pathway programs. Competitive grants are an invaluable resource, but permanent additional funding from the public sector is badly needed.
Demand for healthcare professionals and paraprofessionals was strong during the pandemic. While COVID increased the need for services, many workers took early retirement or left the field due to burn-out, health and safety concerns, or childcare challenges, increasing the workload on the remaining staff and the stress on healthcare institutions. This created additional opportunities for trained individuals willing to work in person during a pandemic to begin a career in healthcare.
Additional resources are critically needed to expand support services, work-based learning, and internship opportunities. These immersive experiences and direct supports are proven to enhance completion and lead to employment. They are especially critical for learners who lack a professional network. In addition, direct support services for students that connect them with financial resources, basic assistance, and learning resources help close equity gaps.
“Short-term, employment-centered training programs are the foundation for offerings at LaGuardia’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education. The Lab gave us the opportunity to invest in redesigning several pathways and have positioned our programs as an on-ramp to jobs and to higher learning at LAGCC. Our program completers have the technical skills and the professional skills to be very competitive in the regional job market.”
Hannah Weinstock, Senior Director of Workforce Development, LaGuardia Community College
“I have enjoyed my time collaborating on labs and projects with fellow LaGuardia Continuing Education students who are excited about information technology. I have learned from instructors who bring much knowledge from their IT career experience and are passionate about our industry.”
Danielle Vasickanin, a micro-pathway program graduate whose academic career began at LaGuardia Community College and resulted in securing an IT job in the region.
The Education Design Lab thanks the following leaders at LaGuardia Community College for their innovative leadership in the service of student completion, success, and equity: Hannah Weinstock, Cara Shousterman, Dr. Sunil Gupta, and Chandana Mahadeswaraswamy.
This article by Dr. Sara Lundquist is part of the Lab’s work helping community colleges innovate and transform through the micro-pathways design process. Learn more about the Community College Growth Engine here, download our Design Insights Brief, subscribe to our email newsletter for updates, and follow along on Twitter: #Micropathways.