Short-Term and Online Certificates are Fast-Tracking Student Success Feature Story

February 24, 2022

One in five adults across the country say they want additional education and training. Thanks to a new Improving Online Career Technical Education Pathways grant, Orange County community colleges are creating online tools to help students earn short-term certificates.

Certificate programs that can be completed in as little as two semesters at Orange County’s community colleges are getting a boost from a new statewide grant that will further improve online education opportunities around short-term certificates.

The Coast Community College District, along with Saddleback and Santiago Canyon colleges, received awards of $500,000 from the Improving Online Career Technical Education Pathways grant program for California community colleges.

The Orange County community colleges are using the funding to address barriers to education by creating online student services tools and support services to develop programs in which students can thrive online. The colleges also focused on faculty training and specialized projects around conversion and equity assessment, aimed at gaining improvements in online student persistence and completion.

Statewide, the grant has resulted in launching more than 232 new online programs and 121 hybrid programs. In the Orange County and Los Angeles regions, more than 130 programs were enhanced online or completely converted to online programs.

Short-term certificate programs are intended to be fast and appealing to individuals who often shy away from the two- or four-year commitment that comes with a college degree. They also help individuals become more marketable during the hiring process and enable workers to achieve upward mobility in their current fields. Working individuals can advance their training while maintaining a job, and some employers provide tuition assistance or other benefits for workers who advance their education.

The certificate of achievement programs in Orange County, offered entirely online or in a hybrid format, range from accounting to welding technology and everything in between. Students in the program receive the same counseling, tutoring, and support services that on-campus students receive, and technical support is available when needed.

Research has shown the growing demand for certificate programs at community colleges. Surveys by CollegeAPP, an analytics company, found that one in five adults across the country say they want additional education and training. And preliminary fall numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse found that enrollment in certificate programs inched up.

To learn more about Orange County’s many short-term certificate programs, click here

In Orange County, funded projects include:

Coast Community College District: The grant will be used for a project called “Improving Online CTE Pathways at Coast Colleges.” This project will improve existing online program quality and create some new online programs in Business, Business Management, Information Technology, Fashion, Interior Design, and Art. The district also will expand access to jointly offered programs via the Story Maps tool, which allows students to align degree options with labor market needs.

Saddleback College: The grant will be used for a project called “Bridging Gaps and Increasing Quality in CTE Online Education Pathways.” This project will increase access and quality in online courses by building six to eight new online certificates, credentials or programs in Academic Divisions such as Advanced Technology and Applied Science, Economic & Workforce Development, Business Science, Health Sciences and Human Services, and Kinesiology and Athletics. The grant will also be used to develop and implement a local Peer Online Course Review process. Access and student support will also be targeted through increased outreach activities, website enhancement, and the development of the Online Education Peer Mentor program.

Santiago Canyon College: The grant will be used for a project to increase access, visibility, and quality of existing online programs, focusing its efforts on three regional growth areas: Real Estate, Water Utility Science, and Vocational Business. The team will provide professional development and instructional design support related to using OER, creating high-quality instructional materials, and aligning online courses with the OEI Course Design Rubric.

The online certificate programs at Orange County community colleges enable students to access their courses from virtually anywhere. The format allows students to maintain their commitments to work and family while advancing their education.

One student who benefited from the short-term certificate program is Michael Lee, who earned a pharmacy technician certificate at North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE). Michael had been a freight truck driver, but he knew he needed to find a career that didn’t have such grueling physical requirements.

Encouraged by an uncle who is a pharmacist, Michael entered the pharmacy technician program. With the help of Disabled Student Services, he discovered he had a learning disability. He was given accommodations to help him earn his certificate, and he now is working at a retail drugstore chain. 

 “NOCE felt like a family,” Michael says. “There was always a door open and someone ready to talk to me if I needed it. The great thing about NOCE is that they don’t just tell you how to succeed but show you and support you along the way.”