news and events

The Lab Looks Back at 2021: A Year of Resilience, Collaboration + Innovation

Together, We Found a Gateway to Community College Transformation … and 7 More Breakthroughs of 2021

As we head into the fourth surge of the COVID-19 virus that was supposed to be “over” by that first summer, it’s hard to be positive about the past two years. 

But … it has to be said … COVID has been the mother of invention and incredible driver for innovation on the part of the “intra-preneur” heroes in higher education. 

To support students in crisis, you have pushed the boundaries of flexible and portable learning. To get access to the federal and state funding flowing in, you have forged partnerships across the “learner journey” with high school districts, workforce investment boards, employer groups and intermediaries. 

Particularly for new majority learners, you are repackaging learning opportunities to be more flexible, affordable, relevant, portable, and visible to help displaced workers build agile skills portfolios.  And you did it all under threat to your own personal health and well-being. 

We are awed as we close this difficult year by your resilience, at how you accelerated the pace of innovation on behalf of your students.  

The Lab would like to name some of the 2021 innovations we witnessed and were humbled to be a part of: 


1. Together, we found a possible gateway to community college transformation: Micro-pathways

The Community College Growth Engine Fund, led by Dr. Lisa Larson, is the Lab’s design accelerator that was set up just before the pandemic to help community colleges lean into a future role as regional talent agents in a skills-based economy. Six of the nation’s largest community colleges and systems joined the Fund’s first cohort, surpassing their goals by designing 30 micro-pathways in 2021. What are micro-pathways? These stackable, employer-validated credentials take less than a year to earn and connect low-wage and entry-level workers to in-demand jobs that pay at-or-above median wage. Lab founder Kathleen DeLaski and Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, argue that micro-pathways are the gateway to community college transformation in this CCDaily essay.

What’s next: Community college leaders, employers, funders, and learners will share their progress during the CCGEF National Convening on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Register here for the free, virtual event.) Also happening on Jan. 19: The Lab will announce the community colleges joining Cohort 2 and release the Fund’s first Design Insights Brief, which can spark action at your own college.


2. Together, we’re re-imagining higher ed’s role in regional ecosystem transformation

In 2021, the Lab assembled a cohort of 12 higher education leaders as Designers in Residence to tackle this critical question: How might higher education strengthen and evolve to better drive regional ecosystem alignment?

Through a process of ecosystem mapping, we gained the critical takeaway: Partnerships that are strongest are not connected merely by regional geography. Rather, the strongest ecosystem partnerships are those that are connected by a shared vision, collective goal, and transcend a time-bound contract. Partnerships rooted in a shared vision enable proactive rather than reactive planning and are more likely to outlast leadership transitions, staff turnover and short-term funding. 

What’s next: We look forward to publishing our actionable framework for higher education’s role in regional ecosystems transformation in 2022, and we can’t wait to share how our Designers in Residence are putting these levers into action. A few are already leading the national conversation, including Dr. Michael Baston of Rockland Community College and Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook of Southern New Hampshire University. 


3. Together, we’re sharpening design tools to meaningfully engage earner-learners

In 2021, The Lab published a major paper and hosted a webinar about the Learner Engagement Framework, which explains the three key drivers of engagement: Growth, belonging, and agency. The paper shares recommendations to help educators better support new majority learners

What’s next: In 2022, we will more deeply integrate the framework in our design process and work with national partners to make it more accessible to educators, employers and Lab partners through webinars and short courses.


4. Together, we’re designing with and for even more employers

In 2021, the Lab was ecstatic to work with employers across various projects, from the Business Roundtable, to our 11-college micro-pathway initiative, and to a “general education of the future” project with Western Governors University. We also released our popular Employer Engagement Guidebook for the Design + Delivery of Micro-pathways.

We continue to work with employers to identify the core combination of 21st century and technical skills needed for specific job roles with our T-Profile tool. In our analysis of 100+ profiles, we can name the most in-demand 21st century skills by employers across more than a dozen industries in 2021:

  • Initiative
  • Collaboration
  • Oral Communication


What’s next: We will make our T-profile tool more tech-enabled, which will allow us to double the size of our library, to make the data publicly available, and continue to drive the conversation around the importance of 21st century skills and for employers to be more precise about the right combination of 21st century skills and technical skills. Employers are clearly hungry for new credentials and assessments to validate these less tangible skills that are so valuable in the fast-changing, ambiguous workplaces of today and tomorrow. We’re ready to help them!


5. Together, we’re helping earner-learners make their hidden skills more visible

In summer 2021, we launched XCredit — or “Experience Credit” — an initiative to capture and validate in-demand (but often hidden) skills so that the credential-earner can showcase their skills to employers, indicate fit for job roles, and increase their economic mobility. So far, we’ve learned people’s lived and work experiences are diverse and sometimes do not show up on their resumes; the opportunities to validate their many skills is a burgeoning opportunity space. No one validation method will align to and capture the breadth of people’s experiences, but we are leading the way to build and test a system to do this.

What’s next: In 2022, we move from prototypes to piloting with military and civilian populations, while continuing to build out our suite of skill validation tools and methods.


6. Together, we’re shaping the skills-based ecosystem

We are very proud of our work with Open Skills Network to take our foundational 21st century skills digital micro-credential competency framework into a digitized format called Rich Skills Descriptors that will catalyze learner-earners’ visibility of achieved skills.

There were many lessons learned: 

  1. The value of an “open” skills library with rich details and a common language about the 21st century skills in a digital format. 
  2. Deeper, boundary-spanning partnerships are essential and help guide the thinking on how we can best operationalize our digital micro-credentials in ways that will transform the value of these credentials in the hiring process.
  3. The Lab has a presence and responsibility as a magnetizing connector for the different ecosystem stakeholders across ed tech, philanthropy, higher ed, K-12, and more.


What’s next: Additional pilots with the Open Skills Network are underway. We’ve expanded our work with international partners and are leveraging the developed Rich Skills Descriptor collectors in multiple skills and program systems to provide access to our framework at scale.


7. Together, we’re designing for today’s teens to be career-ready

College enrollment continues to decline, and young people are navigating a new world with different ways to learn and all types of postsecondary options. 

In 2021, the Lab partnered with the Best Buy Social Impact team on a four-month design sprint focused on expanding postsecondary programming for today’s teens attending Best Buy Teen Tech Centers across the country. 

The Lab also launched Propel Polk!, a first-in-the-nation pilot to teach 21st century skills to Polk County (Florida) high school students, who will receive digital micro-credentials for their resumes. The ultimate goal of this pilot is to see how the intentional teaching of 21st century skills can increase rates of graduation, job placement, and higher education matriculation.

What’s next: We will continue elevating the voices of teenage learners in the design work across the Lab. 


8. Together, we’re learning to design virtually

The pandemic may have disrupted our in-person design sessions, but we were able to engage so many different stakeholders in the virtual space, especially in our BRIDGES Rural project. Participants who may not have had the ability to join — or felt as comfortable sharing in person — were empowered in 2021.

We learned to be unafraid of trying a new platform or tool — and to feel free to experiment or even fail forward.

The Lab’s in-person team retreat in December became a hybrid learning experience, as we simultaneously worked on strategic questions both in person and virtually. 

What’s next: Hybrid design! As much as we value our virtual experience, so much comes from stepping on to a new campus and learning even more about the places and the spaces that are supporting learners and communities.


The Lab’s 8 Media Highlights for 2021:


  1. Community College Daily: Have we found the gateway to transform community colleges?
  2. Axios: A conversation on innovation in learning
  3. Inside Higher Ed: Reimagining Supports to Help Single Moms
  4. The Washington Post: Opinion: Prince George’s students don’t need credentials to nowhere
  5. Inside Higher Ed: From Crisis Comes Opportunity
  6. Work Shift: A new take on certifying ‘soft’ skills—first for veterans, then everyone
  7. Fierce Education: Investing in Two-Year Colleges to Support Rural Communities
  8. Real Clear Education: Funding Community Colleges and Embracing Micro-credentials is an Equity Mandate


news and events

Ivy Tech Designs 4 Micro-Pathways Leading to High-Paying Jobs

Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC) is using the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund— CCGEF or the Fund, for short —as a springboard to rethink and redesign what credential attainment and skill development can look like for learners  across their system. We have featured their approach to a “one-learner ecosystem”, a system where all students, particularly adult learners, are honored for their life and work experiences and learners can move seamlessly between noncredit and credit offerings. To get to their vision for a one-learner ecosystem, Ivy Tech is launching new, leading-edge credentials for emerging occupations through four micro-pathways. Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree. 


Indiana’s Next Level Jobs initiative, led by Gov. Eric Holcomb, is seeking to drive Indiana’s workforce and economy forward by paying tuition and fees for learners and workers to secure work in high-priority industries and in-demand, high-paying jobs. As part of this effort, Ivy Tech has selected emerging occupations to be the focus of their micro-pathways: IT and business services, advanced manufacturing, and jobs in transportation and logistics industries. Ivy Tech’s micro-pathways have all been designed in partnership with national and regional industry associations and employers, from identifying technical and 21st century skills, selecting the industry certifications, creating labs for hands-on learning, and providing paid work-and-learn experiences to learners.



CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) Plus


You might remember the learner-centric approach of Ivy Tech’s merging of credit and noncredit in their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) Plus Certificate micro-pathway we shared in-depth in a previous Innovation Snapshot: Ideas in Action blog post. This is the nation’s first training program of its kind that elevates the quality of training of commercial truck drivers and embeds additional skill learning and credentials to  give learners who complete the micro-pathway broader job responsibilities. While many community colleges offer Commercial Driver’s License programs, Ivy Tech’s “Plus” version adds a new set of enhancements for learners, including the opportunity to earn employer-recognized logistics certifications to gain a broader skill set beyond driving in the booming transportation and logistics industry. Learners also develop 21st century skills through hands-on learning and can participate in paid internships with regional employers. This micro-pathway was created in partnership with the Indiana Motor Truck Association, Venture Logistics, and Conexus Indiana, with employers across the state hiring learners immediately after completion of the micro-pathway.



Cloud Administrator Certificate 


One of Ivy Tech’s two new information technology micro-pathways, the Cloud Administrator Certificate micro-pathway focuses on training for IT work with the Cloud. This micro-pathway is for the “Cloud Upskiller” or someone currently serving in an IT support role, working in IT infrastructure, or an IT professional who is charged with leading a digital transformation initiative. It includes all-new, cutting-edge IT credentials — the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Practitioner and Solutions Architect certifications — as well as the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) NET+ certification. Ivy Tech’s employer partners include AWS, Accenture, Bell TechLogix, and Trek 10, who partnered in the development of the curriculum, will serve as guest speakers, and are expected to hire graduates for their Cloud demand, which continues to grow.



Routing + Switching Certificate 


The second of Ivy Tech’s information technology pathway, their Routing and Switching Certificate micro-pathway, prepares learners to become Broadband Technicians, which are needed for the significant broadband infrastructure expansion underway in the state of Indiana. The Indiana Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship (OWBLA) formally recognized this Ivy Tech micro-pathway as a certified State Earn and Learn (SEAL). Besides work-based learning opportunities, learners earn the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification and CISCO’s CCNA technical certifications. As with the other micro-pathways, employer partnerships are strong and include AT&T, D&S Communications, and Berry Comm. AT&T has provided equipment grants for two of Ivy Tech’s campuses and all will be offering work-based learning and apprenticeships to enable learners develop the high-tech skills to thrive as Broadband Technicians.



Smart Manufacturing Digital Integration Micro-pathway


The manufacturing industry is undergoing significant transformation, and Ivy Tech is at the forefront with their new Smart Manufacturing Digital Integration micro-pathway. This micro-pathway trains individuals for entry-level and/or upskilling opportunities at facilities using smart manufacturing technology. For those unfamiliar with manufacturing, learners can earn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-10 certificate and the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) Basic Operations certificate. Learners then have the option to secure employment with a partnering employer or continue on the micro-pathway to earn more advanced  SACA certifications,  participate in a work-and-learn experience, and complete a certificate, technical certificate, or associate degree  in Smart Manufacturing Digital Integration , giving learners more agency in finding what works for them. For this micro-pathway, Ivy Tech’s partners include Norco Industries, ITAMCO, and Lippert Components, who not only need entry-level talent but will be sending existing employees to this micro-pathway to upskill and become proficient in smart manufacturing. 


What’s next


Ivy Tech launched their CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway this fall and is gearing up to launch the other three in January 2022. So far, Ivy Tech has received approval for state workforce grants to cover tuition and fees for learners on two of the four programs; they hope all of the micro-pathways will be covered soon.



This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.


Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter: #CCGEF.


news and events

Competency-Based Education Can Be a ‘Game-Changer’: Prince George’s Design Team Shares 3 Tips to Get Started

In one of our last Innovation Snapshots, A Silver Lining: State Funding Leveraged to Support Student Advising Innovation for Prince George’s Community College Micro-pathways, we shared how Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) began instituting a new noncredit/Continuing Education advising model for their three micro-pathways as part of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund for short. At the Lab, we define micro-pathways as two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree.

In addition to developing new noncredit and Continuing Education supports, Prince George’s is using the Fund as an opportunity to redesign their offerings toward Competency-Based Education (CBE) models. Through the design of three micro-pathways— Healthcare Technician, IT Support Specialist and Hospitality Leadership —Prince George’s seeks to give learners more agency and control in their learning by shifting to CBE.


What is Competency-Based Education (CBE)? 

Definitions for Competency-Based Education vary across the field, but they all share the following key features: 

  1. Curricula are designed around specific competencies; 
  2. Advancement through a program is based on demonstrating competencies; and 
  3. The time it takes to demonstrate a competency can vary. Key to these definitions is a focus on learning, rather than time, with learning tied to demonstration of competence rather than seat time or credit hours*. 


How is Prince George’s approaching Competency-Based Education (CBE) in their micro-pathways? 

CBE provides learners the flexibility they need to complete their program in their timeframe. June Evans, CCGEF design lead for Prince George’s Community College and director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Innovation Hub (INNOHUB), explains, “We see Competency-Based Education as a game-changer. Even though our micro-pathways have been established to be flexible to meet learners where they are, connect them to jobs, and earn higher wages, the best way for us to do that is within a CBE model.From what PGCC has witnessed, most people, particularly adult learners, don’t want to go back to school due to the lack of flexibility.

Prince George’s believes CBE is not about adding new components to existing programs, and instead sees CBE as an opportunity to re-imagine the role of faculty and how learners engage in the programs. Evans explains it this way: 

“Let’s say there are seven Introduction to Communications classes taught by seven faculty members. Learners would complete most of their coursework independently online, then meet individually or in groups with a faculty member at specific times. This would be based on identified areas where learners may be struggling or need help. Each faculty member would specialize in something different based on learner needs. With the CBE model, we would not need to hire more or use less faculty, but instead use them differently with a focus on learner needs.” 


3 Tips for Community Colleges Starting the Journey to CBE

The approach Evans has outlined and her vision for Prince George’s requires a mindset shift and significant change management across the college. The Prince George’s design team shares their three major tips for colleges embarking on their own CBE venture: 



Start with Stakeholder Buy-in
The transition to CBE requires a paradigm shift. Dr. Clayton A. Railey, executive vice president and provost of Teaching, Learning, and Student Success, has made it clear the college is steering the entire ship in this direction. Evans and the core design team are taking the lead with securing stakeholder buy-in across the college and with external partners. Internally, it has been important to help everyone understand the big picture of CBE and the focus on learner buy-in. Externally, team members are doing presentations and engaging stakeholders about the shift and the positive impact it will have on the community as a whole. Employers are excited about learners coming to the workplace having mastered competencies related to key job roles. Community-based organizations are on board with greater focus on client/learner needs and the flexibility of CBE. As Evans shared, the feedback the Prince George’s team has gotten makes it clear many are ready for change.



Institute Professional Development for Faculty
Critical to internal buy-in is providing faculty with professional development opportunities centered on understanding and building expertise in CBE. Doing so encourages faculty to design programs with this in mind, and makes the payoff clearer. The college’s eDeveloper has been leading the faculty training, starting with differentiating competencies and learning outcomes. Traditional learning outcomes center on the learner understanding content, whereas competency-based learning requires learners to demonstrate they can do something in a measurable way, like perform a skill that would be needed on the job. Through this training, Prince George’s faculty are slowly getting more comfortable with CBE course development, and learners will begin to see the outcomes of this buy-in in how their courses ask them to engage.



Use a Phased Approach
As a core element of change management, pacing the transition to CBE is going to be key to sustainable success and adaptation, hence Prince George’s using the design of their micro-pathways as an opportunity to introduce and test this shift in program design. This fall, the first three modules for each of Prince George’s micro-pathways will be accessible online in a self-paced format with learners having access to a faculty member for support. The remaining modules will be available in January 2022. In spring 2022, additional enhancements include the opportunity for learners to attend two virtual career readiness workshops, engage with employers on either a project, design challenge, and/or participate in industry appreciation discussions. Every learner that completes both career readiness workshops will connect with the Career Development Center to help secure internships and/or job placement.


Prince George’s is using the design and development of their three micro-pathways as an opportunity to shift the college towards a Competency-Based Education model. The college expects to implement CBE across the entire college in approximately five years.


This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.


Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter: #CCGEF.


 * Grant, 1979; Everhart, Sandeen, Seymour, & Yoshino, 2014; Competency-Based Education Network, 2018.

news and events

BRIDGES Rural spurs free, after-school child care program for parent learners at Washington State Community College

Student mother going to study with her daughter
This story by George Lorenzo originally appeared in Workforce Monitor on Nov. 12, 2021.

Working parents attending Washington State Community College (WSCC) in Ohio will soon have the opportunity to participate in a no-cost, after-school child care program created through a grant from the Education Design Lab’s (the Lab) BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge, funded by Ascendium Education Group.

Starting in January 2022, the pilot program will award 25 child care slots for free, after-school services to be provided and supported by the local Boys and Girls Club of Washington County in Marietta, Ohio, and the state’s Department of Job and Family Services Washington County office.

This program, which could become a model for other community colleges to emulate, comes at a time when child care has become an increasingly tough financial and time-management challenge, exacerbated by the pandemic, for parents who work during the day and need new options to balance work, family, and school as they try to advance in their careers. WSCC Dean of Student Success Kathy Temple-Miller said, “Students who need child care services have more trouble paying for college. That’s the concept behind starting this program.”

Studies Reflect Parent Challenges

As part of a national Student Financial Wellness study conducted by Trellis Research during the fall 2019 semester, WSCC surveyed 1,020 of its 2,300-plus enrolled students. The survey garnered 124 responses (12.2 percent). Among a wide variety of important data points, it was noted that 38 percent of WSCC respondents reported they are responsible for providing financial support for child care. Another 63 percent reported they worry about being able to pay their monthly expenses.

The results of another study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research titled “Evaluating the Role of Campus Child Care in Student Parent Success,” published in October 2021, notes child care services at public institutions have declined by 14 percentage points since 2004. “The steepest decline − nearly 17 percentage points − has taken place at community colleges, where the largest share of student parents are enrolled.”

BRIDGES Focuses on Overcoming Barriers

The Lab’s Rural Design Challenge leads a cohort of five rural community colleges through a human-centered design process “to build their capacity to respond to their regional labor markets and to enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.” In addition to Washington State Community College, the four other community colleges in the program are College of Eastern Idaho, Eastern Maine Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, and Zane State Community College.

Lab Education Designer Miriam Swords Kalk explains that during a thorough review process for colleges interested in the BRIDGES initiative, “WSCC made it very clear to us how important it was for them to support people in their communities, especially those who have been historically underinvested in. It has been really exciting for WSCC to build this new partnership that will immediately address a major barrier so many students face.”

From the beginning, the BRIDGES’ human-centered design process has focused on gathering perspectives from students, WSCC faculty and staff, and the community at large, uncovering key opportunities and barriers that learners face as they work toward their goals. One WSCC student summed things up, explaining that “many students are juggling many responsibilities, all while having a very low income. Just being able to afford gas to make it to school can be a hurdle. Finding reliable, affordable child care can be quite daunting.” A WSCC staff member noted that “students wear many different hats – parent, worker, spouse, friend, caregiver, etc. These roles are often in conflict with each other and can be difficult for a student to navigate.”

Advice for Other Community Colleges

Temple-Miller called upon several local child care providers, initially lobbying unsuccessfully for a possible after-school solution until she found a more-than-willing partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. Through $70,000 in total startup funds awarded through the BRIDGES grant, WSCC brought in financial support of $7,200 for the first semester and an extension of BRIDGES financial support over future semesters if the pilot is ultimately successful. Plus, the Department of Jobs and Family Services has committed to providing additional funding support over the long term, Temple-Miller said. “The Boys and Girls Club was immediately on board. The director was ecstatic. They decided to stay open during the evening hours just for us.”

The services provided by the Boy and Girls Club include free busing for six K-12 schools in the area, some of which are up to a 45-minute drive away, so parents do not have to shuttle their children before heading to their WSCC classes. The Boys and Girls Club is also providing tutoring services, enrichment activities, homework assistance, and snacks and dinner. Typically, students will board buses around 3:30 p.m. and wind up staying at the Club until around 8:30 p.m., giving parents ample time to attend classes before picking their kids up and heading home.

Temple-Miller advises community colleges that may be thinking about starting a similar program to not be afraid to ask local child care providers for evening services, even though they typically close sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. daily. “We were going to shut down the concept because we researched all of the child care facilities across the county, and we were unable to find anyone who could offer evening services,” Temple-Miller said. “Sometimes, however, you just need that spark to cause the change. So, don’t be afraid to continue reaching out to find a partner.”

“WSCC’s creative brainstorming and partnership building, all with a constant focus on how to serve students who have family responsibilities and low incomes, will make their pilot program more accessible to parent learners in their community,” added Swords Kalk. “The partnership can serve as an inspiring model for other colleges that do not have on-campus child care centers and would like to connect their parent learners with affordable, high-quality, local, child care options.”

news and events

A Silver Lining: State Funding Leveraged to Support Student Advising Innovation for Prince George’s Community College Micro-pathways

Prince George’s Community College has been instituting a holistic advising model to guide and support learners in its credit-bearing programs. For learners in Continuing Education (CE) programs, however, the college hasn’t been able to provide much-needed advising services due to severe resource constraints—until now. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Maryland issued the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Act, creating a flow of funding to Prince George’s to help individuals who have lost jobs or have had their hours reduced enroll in and complete short-term workforce development programs leading to industry-based credentials. Continuing Education learners are included in access to this funding and the college capacity it creates. 

How is Prince George’s using this unprecedented funding? To start, they’re hiring “Geer” Advisors to work directly with their Continuing Education learners. Prince George’s is supplementing the GEER Act funding with part of the incentive grant they received as part of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund, for short—design accelerator to build and scale what we call “micro-pathways.” Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid or low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree. 

Seven part-time Geer Advisors are supporting learners in their three new micro-pathways, Healthcare Technician, IT Support Specialist, and Hospitality Leadership, which are all housed under the Continuing Education umbrella. June Evans, design lead for Prince George’s CCGEF team and director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Yvette Snowden, associate vice president of Workforce Programs, Innovation, and Partnerships, facilitated journey mapping activities with internal stakeholders at the college to build out the new Geer advising model. Journey mapping, a human-centered design tool, was used to gain insight into a learner’s lived experience from admissions to orientation, all the way through moving into employment or further along the education continuum. 

As Dr. Snowden shares, “We are constantly helping students see their goals and additional ways to support them along their journey that will help them go further. This is a system of support that helps them address barriers that may prevent them from reaching their fullest potential.”


Below are three ways Geer Advisors will serve learners:

  1. Aid in getting started: Geer Advisors will assist learners with the admissions and registration process, then conduct individual or small group orientation sessions. Advisors will make sure learners have access to any wrap-around supports they may need such as transportation, child care, or internet access. 
  2. Troubleshoot academic issues: Geer Advisors will partner with instructors in flagging any issues learners may have with completing their coursework. They will ensure appropriate interventions are made to support learners and help them make it to the finish line of completion. 
  3. Facilitate the articulation process of noncredit to credit: As is an important innovation with micro-pathways for the CCGEF cohort, the Geer Advisors will expedite the noncredit-to-credit articulation process. That means providing learners with any needed paperwork and shepherding it through the PLA process to ensure they receive credit if they choose to continue on their education journey at that time. 


Prince George’s Community College is ecstatic to be able to provide the learners in their micro-pathways with the support they need. The alignment of credit and Continuing Education services is part of an overall shift the college is making towards reimagining postsecondary education. In the end, this is about how to create systems that benefit all students, of which Geer Advisors is an integral part. 

This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.

Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter #CCGEF

news and events

Employer Insights about Micro-Pathways

In April 2021, the Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF), a national initiative to build 18+ employer-validated micro-pathways, hosted learner feedback sessions. Micro-pathways are defined as two or more stackable credentials that include a 21st century skill and lead to a median wage career in one year or less. In these sessions, the cohort of six community colleges and systems engaged directly with employer partners to gather feedback on their micro-pathway prototypes. During these feedback sessions, employers validated skill and  identified industry and workplace needs. Validating these micro-pathways is a core component of the industry responsive micro-pathways we are building through CCGEF.


Key Insights from Employer Partners:

1. Employers look for learners who have gained hands-on or work-based experience applying their skills.

“For us, it’s a matter of being able to check the box…to say, ‘hey, this person has some experience kind of working in the office’, even if it’s an informal capacity, even if it’s an internship, even if it’s volunteering. If they can talk about that and if they have something to put in their resume I think that just gets them to the table a lot faster.”

“Support students in building that portfolio of experiences. So not only do they do it, but then they can tell others about it. So if it’s a digital portfolio, preparing students to thoroughly tell the story of that in a way that employers can understand. And that they can think about the relevance of it.”

Employers seek applicants who have work-based experience whether it’s internships, a job, volunteering, or a personal project they’ve built on their own. Applicants not only need to have this experience but also need to be able to speak about their experiences or demonstrate them in something like a portfolio. Employers referred to technical skills as well as skills such as customer service, confidence, and active learning as being important to gain hands-on experience in. 

2. Employers strongly value 21st C skills training for skills like professionalism, communication, and customer service. 

“It sounds basic, but where people might fail and end up not being able to maintain their job is situations with attendance or inappropriate behavior in the office place, or some other kind of generally unprofessionalism. So I think that whatever else you can do to really kind of bake into the program to teach that entry level professionalism, so that they walk into the work world ready to go. Getting a job is only half of it, but keeping a job [is different].” 

Employer partners stated that though technical skills are essential for obtaining a job, keeping a job requires professionalism and good “communication hygiene.” This involves understanding etiquette such as sending follow up emails and thank you notes. Employer partners appreciated the strong 21st century skills development training and the focus on these types of skills in the pathway.  

3. Employer partners view career coaching as crucial to being successful in the workplace. 

“Something that we see a lot with the institutions that we work with is thinking about how students can position the work-based learning, the projects, and the activities that they’ve done to have really successful interviews. Helping students recognize through those career coaching and career supports the experiences that they bring to their education work and being able to convey those in their interviews is going to be really important.”

Employer partners pointed to career coaching as being highly valuable to learners while job searching. In depth coaching on how to position prior experience and speak about skills is not always available to learners, but employers emphasized the need for it. 

Next Steps for the CCGEF Cohort

Over the coming weeks, the CCGEF cohort institutions will continue to receive feedback for each of their selected micro-pathway occupations. Using the feedback identified during these sessions, design teams will adjust pathways and add learner supports. Learner co-designers will continue to be actively involved in the design process to ensure that their needs are being met. 



Validating a learner’s life and working experiences as currency for future opportunities.

XCredit blog: Get the most up-to-date information about XCredit.


The Education Design Lab developed the concept of an employer-validated “XCredit,” or Experience Credit, which signals to employers the skills attained informally on the job or in life. In the XCredit project, the Lab will design, test and pilot two approaches to assessing and validating these skills:

Skill Assessments:

Experiential assessments that allow an individual to showcase the skills they have gained.

For example, to demonstrate their active listening skills, learners might participate in a virtual reality simulation in which they gather client feedback after an event. The Lab is currently piloting a set of performance-based assessments and digital credentials for six durable skills and their corresponding sub-competencies.

Skill Artifacts

Real world evidence of soft skills that can serve as a proxy for more formal credentials.

For example, an Uber driver’s performance score, a waitress’s tip percentage average, or a military cook’s record of success with large machine maintenance can be excellent signals for customer service, oral communication, or project management skills.

Taken together, these two approaches will help learner-earners seeking better job and career outcomes to leverage the skills they already have, giving value and respect to their lived experiences.

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BRIDGES Design Insights

Part 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners

The Lab’s new Design Insights publication series offers a glimpse into our human-centered design approach to make learning visible, portable, affordable, flexible, and relevant for New Majority Learners.

In this first brief, we share insights from initiatives led and supported by the Lab and introduce our BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge that makes the case for greater investment in rural community colleges. Funded by Ascendium Education Group, we launched this multi-year project in April 2020 to answer this question: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? 

With this design question in mind, this brief explores key barriers and opportunities in rural communities and offers early insights from the project that will be used to inform the development of new models for rural colleges. We explain how our approach, based in human-centered design, will build the capacity of rural community colleges to respond to their regional labor markets and enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.

The brief offers five key insights that were collected by the BRIDGES team and gathered from interviews and surveys of more than 500 rural community members to help shape our understanding of rural places and their diverse communities:

  1. Rural communities demonstrate a deep commitment to place
  2. Experiences of belonging vary within rural communities
  3. Rural communities benefit from understanding their constituents
  4. Education may be seen as a value and a threat in rural communities
  5. Future efforts should be built from the strengths of rural communities – with rural community colleges at the center

From these design insights, we highlight opportunities noted by the colleges and their community members as they formulate models to prototype and pilot. Through our BRIDGES Rural work, we are deepening our understanding of rural places and people, using and building on their assets to develop innovations that address their unique goals and needs, and catalyzing economic opportunities to improve outcomes for rural learners and their communities.

Learn more and download the full brief here

Want to stay up to date with our BRIDGES Rural work? Follow us on Twitter @BridgesRural for frequent share-outs of our BRIDGES learnings and @eddesignlab for general Lab updates and opportunities to connect!

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How Interviews with 100s of Rural Learners are Shaping New Program Models for our BRIDGES Rural Cohort

Since our BRIDGES Rural initiative kicked off last spring, we’ve been asking: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? At the Lab, we always aim to tackle these big, messy, systems questions by starting with learners—learners who are attending our schools of focus, those in the workforce that are interested in or might benefit from re-engaging in college, learners who attended previously but were unable to complete, and potential learners in the greater community. Our work with five community colleges through BRIDGES Rural is no different. Since January, we’ve worked with our cohort to conduct comprehensive research with nearly 500 learners, institutional faculty, and other community stakeholders about their experiences.


What did we hear?

The communities involved in our cohort—spanning Idaho Falls, Idaho; Bangor, Maine; Canandaigua, New York; Marietta and Zanesville, Ohio—and the learners and stakeholders we heard from highlighted the rich diversity and strengths of rural places, underscored systemic and institutional barriers, and identified opportunities that exist to build on what works well. While unique themes exist at individual colleges, much of what we heard can be mapped across rural institutions. And, many of these shared themes in experience are true for learners beyond rural spaces.

#1 Many rural learners value connections to their homes and communities and want to feel this sense of rootedness more deeply at school

Strong relationships and consistent, accessible, transparent communication with faculty, staff, advisors, and other learners can support learners’ success.

#2 Learners need to feel embraced as their whole selves at their schools and in their communities.

Systemic inequities and dominant cultures have shaped vastly different experiences for learners based on race, gender, sexuality, age, and whether they are a caretaker or not. Historic underinvestment in diverse rural communities contribute to some learners experiencing a greater sense of belonging than others do.


#3 Learners want to build family-sustaining careers where they can grow, feel fulfilled, and contribute to their communities.

To make informed choices about their education and careers, people benefit from understanding the opportunities, earning potential, and possible paths associated with different careers in their communities so they can decide what their individual journey will look like and see the ROI of their education in terms of their goals. The fundamental structures of learning experiences need to be redesigned to align with learners’ hopes, goals, and life experiences and to reflect local career opportunities. Rural communities’ colleges can play a major role in preparing community members for in-demand jobs and in working with their broad-reaching networks to support economic growth and well-being.

#4 Learners benefit from opportunities to access learning and support in ways that meet them where they’re at and fit flexibly with their lives.

For rural learners, barriers related to childcare, transportation, distance, finances, basic needs, broadband internet access, belonging, and time can be interconnected in ways that make success in school feel out of reach, frustrating learners’ sense of growth and agency.


#5 Many learners need and want greater opportunities to combine work and learning, and rural community colleges have the potential to be “hubs” that connect community members with learning opportunities that address regional workforce gaps.

Partnerships are essential to this and should exist between multiple stakeholders in rural communities.


700 Ideas: What Happens When You Have a Holistic Understanding of Community Experience

Each of our five community college partners worked with the Lab to bring together comprehensive data about their learners’ experiences, their institutions, and their communities more broadly. We curated this research into virtual galleries that hundreds of people from across each school’s region explored. Based on what they learned through their gallery walks, the cohort collectively came up with almost 700 ideas to tackle their design question. These ideas range from focusing on holistic support, career development and employer engagement, advising, pathway design, diversity and inclusion, and more. Here are just a few examples:

  • Community-Powered Single Parent One Stop with multi-generational programming and resources, including transportation assistance, financial resources, and academic and career supports.
  • Provide industry-driven micro-pathways in partnership with employers large and small, delivered in a distributed way throughout the region for close proximity to learners and employers.  
  • Establishing a Chief Diversity Officer at the college to promote and celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion across the campus and the broader community, informing learner support strategies, program and curriculum design, community outreach, and policy change across the institution.
  • Embed the college as a strong community presence with expanded student and community engagement outside the classroom through sports, volunteer opportunities, events, clubs, and more. 
  • Appalachian Arts College to re-enliven Appalachian culture and crafts, engage local artisans, and offer learners free tuition for working at the college.
  • Create “Roadmaps to Success” that will help learners to visualize the diverse number of ways to pursue career and personal goals from entry to completion.


Want to dig in deeper?

Feel free to peruse the BRIDGES virtual gallery walks within our community of practice, hosted by our partner Participate:

In March, we released “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency. Many themes we heard from learners in our BRIDGES cohort echoed calls we’ve heard from our work with 100s of learners over the last seven years. This framework dives in a bit deeper to provide tangible suggestions that can better a learner’s sense of growth, agency, and belonging, and in turn, give learners the opportunities and resources they need to meet their goals.


How We Got it Done—Thank You to Our Partners!

Collaboration among the Lab, the BRIDGES Rural cohort, and key partners made these gallery walks and our research possible. Higher Ed Insight, our BRIDGES evaluation partner, compiled and visualized powerful quantitative data for our gallery walks. To complement this with qualitative data, Urban Rural Action helped the Lab team conduct interviews with learners and other community members, which you can learn more about in this Areas of Agreement podcast episode focusing on our collaboration. 


Up Next: Prototyping

Next up, the BRIDGES teams will prototype, test, and continue to iterate on their big ideas, moving steadily toward pilot launches in partnership with their communities. Want to stay up to date with our BRIDGES Rural work? Follow us on Twitter @BridgesRural for frequent shareouts of our BRIDGES learnings and @eddesignlab for general Lab updates and opportunities to connect!

Stay tuned for our series of insight briefs soon to be published about unlocking the potential of rural learners!  

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Through the Voices of Learners: A Spotlight on Delgado Community College’s Single Moms Success Pilot

Faculty and staff at Delgado Community College participate in a gallery walk during a design session where they built prototype programs to increase single mother learner college completion.


In fall 2020, community colleges in the Lab’s Single Moms Success initiative (SMS) cohort began to launch elements of their pilot programs, all while grappling with the operational, emotional, and public health challenges posed by COVID-19. This week, we are excited to share a preview of Delgado Community College’s Single Moms Success pilot program: SMART – Single Moms Accessing Resources Timely. 

Throughout Single Moms Success, Delgado has demonstrated its strong commitment to offering single mothers in the New Orleans region greater educational opportunities to advance their careers and support their families. 

Forty-eight percent of children in New Orleans are raised by single moms, and 58% of single mother families in the city experience poverty. According to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), single mothers in Louisiana who graduate with an AA are 43% less likely to live in poverty and will earn $282,760 more in their lifetimes than those who have just high school diplomas, and those with a BA are 72% less likely and will earn $627,954 more throughout their lives than those with just high school diplomas. The relationship between education, career opportunities, and poverty for single mothers and their children has inspired Delgado’s Single Moms Success team to design a pilot program that will offer single moms the support and flexibility they need to persist in school and build fulfilling, family-sustaining careers. 

Delgado’s SMART (Single Mothers Accessing Resources Timely) pilot approach will enable 2,000 single mother learners to make progress simultaneously in their education, careers, and financial support of their families. Initial pilot element rollout began in fall 2020, and the full pilot will launch in fall 2021. 

Program Benefits 

  • Holistic Support 
    • Online + in-person case management 
    • Aunt Bertha for needs assessments and resource referrals
    • Scholarships + childcare vouchers specifically for single mother learners
    • Transportation assistance
  • Single Moms Community + Network
    • Single moms online community in the Delgado app
    • Proactive outreach + resource/support sharing from staff
  •  Learning + Workforce Support Tailored to Single Moms
    • Industry-aligned stackable credentials with opportunities for paid internships
    • Flexible asynchronous online courses
    • Orientation course specifically designed for single mother learners
    • Industry-specific career navigation

What We’re Learning through the Perspective of Delgado Learners

    1. Demonstrating to learners how you care personally about them can impact their engagement, student identity, and so much more.
      “The biggest thing was them knowing that they’re not alone. They have a safe place where they can share. They can come to me in my office hours. I want to promote their success in their education, their life goals.”

      – Shelly Planellas, the course instructor for Delgado’s orientation course design specifically for single moms 
    2. Holistic support and care for learners as whole people needs to happen both inside and outside the classroom.
      “This semester has been so emotionally tough on me. My first day of the Connect Success class, I probably looked like a mess because I had COVID. Then two weeks ago I lost my great-grandmother, who has been with me for my whole life, to COVID. This was the woman I would go to for everything. She babysat me, bathed me as a baby, cooked me sweet potato pie – I’m used to seeing her every day. I told Ms. Shelly I wanted to give up. I’ve never lost anyone. I’ve been part of five living generations together, and I’ve never known grief before. I was so nervous about my grades in handling the grief. This class is what kept me going. Ms. Shelly motivates me, the other students motivate me, we motivate each other.”

      Tarcelyn James, a single mom and nursing student at Delgado, on how Shelly has played a key role in her support system during an intense period of grief 
    3. Making sure faculty are informed about services and resources can support learners’ awareness and access of support.
      “The class turned out to be a class I really needed. There were some amazing people. Shelly was so great. She broke through all my layers. I even cried in the class. It was even just like therapy for me. I think I really needed that. Shelly didn’t let up. Most of my personal information I never tell anybody. Through the lessons and stuff she was teaching us, she gave us the strength we didn’t know we had. I’m a single mother. I have three boys… Different activities we did in the class brought back different parts of my life and made me rewind and process… Another thing with Ms. P – every resource, we knew about it. I’ve been at Delgado since 2017, 2018. I went to school at night, in the early morning. I never knew about any of the resources that Delgado had. Ms. P is everything. That class, I think I took the most seriously of any. I got so much out of that class… I would work from 4am to 1pm. I would take an early lunch at work and either go into the office or in the car so I wouldn’t miss that class.”

      – Tricilla Thomas, a single mother of three boys who is about to earn her Associate’s degree in business with a focus on small business entrepreneurship 
    4. Believe in single mother learners’ huge potential by supporting them to identify their goals, believe in themselves, and connect with resources and opportunities to reach those goals.
      “This class has been a mirror to my life because it made me reevaluate myself, challenge myself, better understand myself, feel more confident in myself… We did a mommy and me team project for Ms. Shelly’s class. Our team name was the ‘Never-Giver-Uppers,’ and our mascot was the eagle because baby, we soar high. We beat the odds.”- Tarcelyn James, a single mom and nursing student at Delgado,


For more information on Delgado’s pilot, and additional learnings and resources for how to engage learners in your community, read our recent release “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency.

Additionally, stay tuned for more updates to come about the Single Moms Success cohort’s progress by following along with our work in the Innovator Network and on Twitter @eddesignlab and #SingleMomsSuccess.