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.
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) was founded in1964 and is the largest of CUNY’s community colleges, serving approximately 20,000 students in 50 college credit programs and another 9,000 in its Division of Adult and Continuing Education. Located in Manhattan and led by Dr. Anthony Munroe, the college’s diverse student body hails from 155 different countries and speaks more than 111 languages. The micro-pathways initiative is closely aligned with BMCC’s strategic plan and its commitment to provide career development leading to meaningful work and family-sustaining wages to its diverse constituency of learners.
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.
BMCC designed an Emergency Medical Technician Basic Certificate micro-pathway, which leads to a career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Download the PDF.
The Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) micro-pathway was designed from the outset with discipline experts from both credit and noncredit to maximize the units that can be applied toward the A.A.S. degree in Paramedics. This positive dynamic gave the program immediate academic credibility and helped to ensure upward academic mobility for the participating students.
BMCC contextualized the 21st century skills — or “soft” skills — employers value most with EMT-centered learning activities. The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program director worked closely with the Lab’s 21st century skills team, using the rich frameworks to customize the activities that will help learners demonstrate mastery and articulate their skills including creative problem solving, critical thinking, and empathy.
The micro-pathways design process is helping BMCC embed 21st century skills across several programs. BMCC college leaders in Continuing Education and Academic Affairs have long been interested in elevating soft skills along with the core technical skill curriculum. As employers have emphasized the value they place on 21st century skills in the workplace, college leaders have been looking for ways to integrate them more substantially into the curriculum and to ensure that learners practice them in context. The EMT program transformed a theoretical possibility into a working model that can be adapted across disciplines within and beyond Allied Health with compelling examples of the difference these skills made for learners that extended far beyond the initial coursework and training modules.
BMCC created a strong bridge from K-12 to college by designing an intersegmental EMT pathway that begins in high school, with units that count toward BMCC credentials, and high school graduation. This accomplishment was significant because interested students who could succeed in the program were crushed by the workload that was required in their senior year. Articulating the skills and competencies derived from the BMCC program with high school graduation requirements added relevance and relieved the workload for participating students. At a time when the number of high school students matriculating to college has been declining nationally, programs that seamlessly close the gap between high school and college coursework greatly increase the chances that students will continue to stack credentials and become eligible for median wage jobs with strong future employment prospects. The focus on credential completion as part of finishing high school distinguishes this strategy from other dual-enrollment or early college models where students get a head start on a program they will finish after a year or more of college coursework.
Obstacles + opportunities
The importance of engaging faculty in like disciplines across credit and noncredit cannot be overstated. As co-designers of micro-pathways, faculty support helps to maximize the transfer of credits to higher learning, thus accelerating the achievement of certificates and degrees, including university transfer.
The college is considering the development of a credit/noncredit course featuring 21st century skills as a stand-alone Career Readiness class because of the value to learners and employers. The challenge of making this a separate course is that required units in most degree-track majors are already substantial, limiting the capacity for additional units to be counted toward graduation. The provost and academic chairs are working through this program design challenge.
“By creating a robust, intersegment micro-pathway training program with college credits and stackable credentials co-designed by faculty experts and industry partners, we were able to bring an active and highly successful career pathway model to life for adaptation to additional disciplines within and beyond Allied Health.”
Dr. Donna McLean-Grant, Director of Programs, Special Projects, and Allied Health, Office of Continuing Education and Workforce Development, Borough of Manhattan Community College
“Our program is designed to maximize upward educational and professional mobility for students as they become successful college students during their final year of high school, master work-based learning skills, and obtain professional certifications that are relevant in the world of work and in the college credit program. I [presented] this model as part of a national conference in October 2022.”
Meghan Williams, M.A., EMS Program Director and Assistant Professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College
The Education Design Lab thanks the following leaders at Borough of Manhattan Community College for their commitment to student success, equity, and completion: Dr. Donna McLean-Grant, Meghan Williams, and Anthony Watson.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.