Pathways to Two-Year Degrees

Reduce the time it takes to complete a two-year degree. Put structures and supports in place that help more students pick their career paths and accumulate the credits they need to finish programs on time.

Recommendation 9

Pathways to Two-Year Degrees

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Far too many students rack up extraneous credits, wasting precious time and money and weakening their likelihood of completing college and advancing in their careers. A growing body of evidence reveals effective ways to restructure community college to make the pathway to degree completion more efficient, affordable, and seamless. States should adopt policies that support and encourage implementation of these pathway reforms.


We call on states to flex their oversight muscle by tracking and publicly reporting the time it takes to earn a degree. That will raise awareness and create a sense of urgency around the issue of students earning excess credits and spending more time and other resources on their educations than necessary. Additionally, states should support community colleges’ efforts to implement proven approaches to reducing time to completion. For example, states should develop structures or guidelines for authenticating the prior learning experiences of incoming students and award them academic credits for those experiences.

Moreover, states should ensure that community colleges clearly map out degree requirements so that students and their advisers know which courses they should take to earn desirable credentials and stay on track for on-time completion. Finally, states should ensure that colleges more routinely embed short-term certificates into their programs of study. That will give students incentives to earn certificates with immediate value in the labor market while also pursuing longer-term educational goals.