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Education Design Lab and consortium of Colorado community colleges awarded $4.9 million DOL grant for micro-pathways project

‘Year to Career Through Micro-pathways’ will grow accelerated career pathways in healthcare and IT sectors

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 8, 2023) — Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit that designs new learning models for higher education and the future of work, today announced its project with a consortium of Colorado community colleges has been awarded more than $4.9 million by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The Lab’s micro-pathways are central to the grant project, “Year to Career Through Micro-pathways” (Year to Career), which will design accelerated, stackable credentials that align with labor market needs across Colorado.

Why it matters

Community colleges are in a unique position to improve social mobility and reduce economic disparities. The future demands a system of higher education that is more flexible, affordable, and inclusive for new majority learner-earners. Year to Career will center the design efforts on historically excluded populations, increase workforce equity, and strengthen economic efficiency. Instead of taking two or more years to earn a degree, learners will take accelerated micro-pathways that will place them directly into the workforce with industry-recognized skills and credentials.

Over the last three years, the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine (CCGE) has supported nearly 25 colleges to design over 50 micro-pathways to connect low-wage and entry-level workers to in-demand jobs that pay at-or-above median wage and put them on a path toward a degree.

Year to Career, a consortium comprising Arapahoe Community College (ACC), Community College of Denver (CCD), Pueblo Community College (PCC) and the Lab will create six micro-pathways in the healthcare and IT sectors. This newly formed partnership will build upon the strong foundation of existing collaboration between the Lab and the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) to expand occupational pathways in the industries that are vital for Colorado’s economy. Its primary population of focus will be learners of color, and those identifying as ethnically Hispanic or Latinx, the largest underserved population in Colorado.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with the Education Design Lab and build out additional micro-pathways in healthcare and information technology at several of our colleges,” said Joe Garcia, Chancellor of the Colorado Community College System. “This model will help us better meet the needs of today’s learners and foster a skilled workforce for these two critical industries.”

“ACC is thrilled to partner with CCD, PCC, and the Lab to co-create innovative micro-pathways into healthcare and IT,” said Dr. Eric Dunker, ACC Vice President for Workforce and Economic Development, in ACC’s news release about the award. “Year to Career will address our region’s largest talent shortages and provide more economic mobility for our students.”

Bill Hughes, President + CEO of Education Design Lab: “The SCC3 grant has enabled the Lab to bring together an innovative, regional cohort of institutions focused on unlocking opportunity for learners and strengthening talent pipelines for employers and industries in need of skilled workers. We are delighted to enable this important consortium serving needs across Colorado.”

Grant details

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) awarded Arapahoe Community College (ACC) $4,989,434 in the third round of the Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants Program (SCC3). In addition to ACC and the Lab, the other consortium partners include Community College of Denver (CCD) and Pueblo Community College (PCC). The SCC3 program is a commitment to investing in education programs that connect people to quality jobs while creating a more inclusive and equitable workforce. In the SCC3’s third round (February 2023), the DOL awarded $50 million to a total of 15 community colleges across 14 states to expand access to education and training.

Year to Career Through Micro-pathways will provide scalable, stackable credentialing in the career pathways of Health Information Technology, Behavioral Healthcare, Emergency Healthcare, Allied Health, IT Support, Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, and Data Analytics.

What are micro-pathways?

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 (l)earners on the path to an associate degree.

Go deeper

Learn more about the Community College Growth Engine here, and download our Design Insights Brief, which features learnings from our first cohort.

About Education Design Lab: The Lab is a national nonprofit that co-designs, tests, and builds new education-to-workforce models where skills matter. The Lab’s human-centered design process focuses on understanding learner experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting new majority learners to economic mobility. The Community College Growth Engine, led by Dr. Lisa Larson, is a design accelerator set up just before the pandemic to help community colleges lean into a future role as regional talent agents. Learn more:

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