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Education Design Lab’s micro-pathways initiative welcomes largest cohort of community colleges yet

40+ colleges are transforming through the learner-centered design process

WASHINGTON, D.C. (JANUARY 26, 2023) — Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit that designs, implements, and scales new learning models for higher education and the future of work, today announced the third cohort of colleges participating in the nationally recognized Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF, or the Fund) initiative that designs micro-pathways, a new class of credentials.

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. Over the last three years, the Fund 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.

The third cohort — the largest to date — is starting with 18 colleges in February 2023 and will likely grow to over 30 institutions by late spring. The new cohort includes three state systems/districts of community colleges, which will help sustain innovations through system-level transformation.

Meet Cohort III

The latest community colleges to join the Fund include:

SUNY (State University of New York system)

  • Ulster
  • Westchester
  • Dutchess
  • Orange
  • Rockland
  • Sullivan

Alamo Colleges District

  • Northeast Lakeview College
  • Northwest Vista College
  • Palo Alto College
  • St. Philip’s College
  • San Antonio College


  • Alexandria Technical and Community College
  • Central Lakes College
  • Hennepin Technical College
  • Saint Paul College

Northern Virginia Community College

Community College of Rhode Island

College of Eastern Idaho



SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr.: “As we continue to address the needs of the workforce of today and tomorrow, community colleges are at the forefront of that conversation. SUNY’s 30 community colleges open the doors for post-secondary education by offering certificate programs and associate degrees, as well as transfer and career services. Education must be affordable and inclusive because it provides an opportunity for social mobility and a chance at breaking down barriers for those who have been historically marginalized. To that end, these schools are beacons lighting the way for students who may otherwise have thought college not to be attainable. SUNY’s community colleges are poised to increase student success by offering courses and credentials which directly translate to the needs of employers from all different backgrounds, including technical and vocational fields. I thank SUNY Ulster, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan community colleges for being a part of the third cohort in the nationally recognized Community College Growth Engine Fund.”


Bill Hughes, President + CEO of Education Design Lab: “The world of work has never before put such an onus on skills as exist today. Learners and earners need to show evidence of skills to be eligible for advancement in their career journeys. Employers need workers whose skills align with their talent requirements. The traditional degree alone does not solve for either of these, as it may be too time-intensive or expensive, and it may not align with the fast-changing needs of the labor market. The response to these challenges must be a shift to open up more affordable, accessible, job-aligned routes to employment opportunities. The work of the Community College Growth Engine Fund does that, and the Lab is excited to launch its next and largest cohort.”


Dr. Lisa Larson, Head of the Community College Growth Engine Fund: “Learner attitudes about school and work are shifting, employers are at the table looking for new solutions, and community colleges are on the brink of change. There has never been a more pressing moment to figure out what the next generation of community colleges are and, importantly, how to get there. So far, we’ve seen firsthand how the Fund’s micro-pathway model and design process can serve as a gateway to community college transformation.”


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.

By the numbers
  • 41 community colleges as of February 2023 and counting
  • 30 micro-pathways launched
  • 20 micro-pathways in design
  • 5+ high-growth industry sectors including healthcare, information technology, construction, manufacturing, and business
  • 150+ employers engaged
  • 4,000 (l)earners impacted
What’s next

Through this initiative, colleges are realizing micro-pathways are a gateway to further innovation and transformation. In recognition of this, the Lab has created the Transformation Network for the Fund’s Cohort 1 colleges to continue to expand and scale their micro-pathway work and focus on ensuring the visibility and portability of these new credentials.

Our funders

We want to thank the Charles Koch Foundation,, and the Walton Family Foundation for their early investment as well as the Arizona Community Foundation, Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation, Ascendium Education Group, Autodesk, The Beacon Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Citizens, deLaski Family Foundation, Garcia Foundation, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, and the ZOMA Foundation.

Go deeper

Learn more about the Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and download our January 2022 Design Insights Brief, which features learnings from our first cohort.


About Education Design Lab: The Lab is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting new majority learners to economic mobility. The Community College Growth Engine Fund, 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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