Two-year colleges across Washington are using a variety of approaches to help students earn a degree or credential more quickly, writes guest author Jan Yoshiwara.

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Community and technical college students don’t have time or money to waste. They want to graduate as soon as possible and land a good job or transfer to a university. We serve students of all ages; the average age is 26.  They work, raise children, and often take multiple courses from multiple institutions. Nearly half of our students receive financial aid in eligible courses, making it all the more important to realize every dollar’s worth of education.

Successful colleges are innovative and meet these students when and where they are in their lives. For community and technical colleges, this means capitalizing on the things that work and creating new opportunities where gaps exist.

For example, colleges and high schools have a long history of offering dual-credit programs such as Running Start, where high-school students earn high school and college credits simultaneously. Last year, 20,100 high school students earned dual credits through the program. Today, we’re also breaking new ground in the area of remediation. Colleges are working with 80 school districts to make sure high school courses connect to college requirements and to diagnose, early on, whether a student is on track to take college-level classes.

For college students who need remediation, we are using innovative strategies to catapult them into college-level classes.  This means collapsing the number of required pre-college courses, allowing students to move ahead based on knowledge rather than time in class, and teaching academics and job skills concurrently so students save time and learn in real-world settings. Much of the emphasis is on math, the major stumbling block to college achievement.

Colleges are also moving beyond traditional advising to craft targeted, individualized job and degree plans for students. Student service centers provide one-stop shopping for students to enroll, apply for financial aid, speak with an advisor and select classes.

Competency-based education allows students to move as fast as their knowledge takes them and to test out of classes or skip them altogether once they master the subject. Colleges are now offering competency and prior learning-based options to adults who need a high school diploma. Several colleges are also poised to offer a competency-based online business transfer degree. In the past, community and technical colleges have offered competency-based certificates, but this will be the first degree for the two-year college system.

Online education erases barriers of time and distance for students. Students are not only learning online, but certain online courses acknowledge what students already know and deliver lessons to fill in the gaps. In another approach, called “flipped classrooms,” students study broad content online and use valuable classroom time to ask questions and actively apply their knowledge.

Moving students further and faster is vital. Equally important is what students can actually do with their educations. Colleges constantly adapt their workforce programs to match with today’s job openings. For students who wish to earn an associate degree and transfer to a university, our two-year colleges and universities are improving upon Washington’s already strong transfer system, with new transfer pathways into specific majors.

Washington has one of the most advanced community and technical college systems in the nation. We realize, however, that higher education institutions can’t afford to simply stand on successes. We must use them as footholds to reach higher attainment for students, and for Washington.

Jan Yoshiwara is the deputy executive director for the education division at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges