As part of an occasional series, the Florida College Access Network blog will help explain some of the complicated terms that can be found in the world of postsecondary access. This week’s word is stackable credits, a term used increasingly in college access and education reform circles.

Simply put, stackable credits or stackable certificates allow a student to quickly achieve an industry certification at a community college that leads directly to employment. Typically, these programs are geared toward adult learners with schedules more open to individuals with jobs and families.

Traditionally, these classes have been offered through the non-credit wing of a community college and were not allowed to count toward a two-year degree. That view is changing as enterprising college administrators respond to the rapidly changing economy and offer these classes as for-credit job and professional training. By making these professional development classes available for credit, they have made them “stackable” and in many cases, portable, to other higher ed institutions.

For instance, in this article about stackable credentials and the ever-shifting Texas energy industry, several of the state’s community colleges have begun offering a 2-year degree aimed at oil and gas workers. With this associate degree, many recent grads can earn $50,000 to $70,000 a year directly out of college.  By forming partnerships with the energy industry, these Texas community colleges have been able to create stackable credentials that build toward the 2-year degree. This allows oil and gas workers to move about the large state, port their credits and credentials with them, and resume classes when work and family allow for larger stretches of free time.

“That approach, which appears to be gaining steam in the academy, links a series of certificates and degrees in specific discipline,” writes Inside Higher Ed. “Each credential builds upon the previous one, and courses for shorter-term certificates count toward degrees.”


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