Provides strategies and online tools to assist community colleges in implementing stackable credentials, including approaches for employer engagement, curriculum design practices, ideas for supporting student completion, and suggestions for sustainability.

“This tool kit is organized into sections on topics of importance to colleges considering a stackable credentials approach. Each section provides information, hyperlinks to online tools, and suggestions on how to use them” (p. 4). Topics include: employer engagement, curriculum design practices, ideas for supporting student completion, and suggestions for sustainability.

“The approach by community and technical colleges of embedding ‘stackable’ certificates aligned to industry certifications within associate degrees has emerged in recent years as a practical way of helping students progress along the education continuum while earning credentials with labor market value. By organizing programs into a series of certificates that build on each other, colleges can offer incremental milestones on the path to associate degree completion. Stackable certificates are intended to represent exit and entry points designed to maximize skill acquisition, employability, and seamless transition to careers. Ideally, learners can exit a program for full-time employment and resume where they left off when they’re ready to pursue the next level of credential or degree attainment, or leverage their newly earned credential to secure an entry-level position in their chosen career field while continuing their education part-time” (p.1).

For this toolkit, “the [authors] interviewed faculty and staff from nine community and technical colleges that had been offering stackable credentials for several years….The[se] study colleges helped inform…[technical assistance] services and provided myriad examples from which other colleges can learn and benefit. Case studies of six of the nine colleges appear in the appendix….[T]he nine study colleges [plus an additional]…13…[community] colleges—provided the ‘ideas from the field’ that appear throughout this tool kit” (p.2).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The authors provide the following promising strategies from the field: “Employer Engagement….Employers are critical partners in the design of stackable credentials programs. Their feedback regarding workplace expectations will serve as the cornerstone of the curriculum. They are also essential partners in providing work-based learning experiences….Although each community is unique, these cross-cutting strategies will set your efforts up for success: • Affirm the need for stackable credentials and clarify training goals” (p.6). • “Create a culture of employer leadership” (p.6). • “Build expectations for the future” (p.6). “Designing Curriculum for Stackable Credentials. Having established a common interest in and demand for stackable credentials, partners can move forward with the task of designing curriculum. Because the stackable credentials approach is meant to prepare students for employment, employers must be engaged upfront so that their hiring needs can determine the skills and credentials on which your program will focus. Begin by asking employers to describe their expectations of exit points—what students should know and be able to do upon completion of each credential—and what industry certifications, if any, are aligned to each credential and valued by their companies” (p.18). “Supporting Completion….Education pathways built on stackable credentials offer today’s students’ accessible options for earning industry credentials on the road to degree completion. Multiple exit points aligned to employment opportunities help students maximize limited time and financial resources. Among the stackable credentials programs examined, [the authors] have noted common elements designed to facilitate program completion. Examples include the following: • Scheduling courses to accommodate working students • Offering courses online • Awarding credit for prior learning • Making college affordable • Assisting students with individualized pathways” (p.34). “Sustaining Stackable Credentials….Data management is essential to the success of stackable credentials programs—especially when the approach is new to your institution or industry partners. Data can help you understand how implementation is working (or not) and why, so you can adjust accordingly and improve along the way” (p.44). (Abstractor and Website Staff)