NSC STEM Pathways
NSC STEM Pathways
STEM Pathways are five certificate programs developed by the National STEM Consortium (NSC). NSC is a collaborative of ten colleges in nine states, funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant to develop one-year, 30-credit certificate programs in five Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields: Composites Technology, Cyber Technology, Electric Vehicle Technology, Environmental Technology, and Mechatronics Technology. In collaboration with the OPEN Platform+ program, these have been implemented and made available on the OLI platform, with learning activities targeting specific areas of challenge, resources to support instructors and implementation guides for administrators.
The STEM Pathways use an innovative two-part STEM Bridge program to improve completion and success rates of students. This program embeds contextualized refresher instruction in mathematics, communication, and professionalism to eliminate traditional remedial courses and prepare students for success in demanding technical courses. The NSC STEM Readiness course enables students who are not fully college-ready in math to enroll and succeed in the technical curriculum, thus broadening the pool of potential students and opening STEM careers to a greater number of workers. The second element of the STEM Bridge is designed as a FAST TRACK program to support learners who require more intensive, up-front development of the basic skills required for access to the technically demanding educational pathways into STEM occupation. The STEM Foundations course provides elements of this FAST TRACK approach.
The NSC academic model is built on four research-based strategies that, when combined, yielded an average 69% on-time completion rate across its students nationwide.
First, NSC instruction is outcomes-driven, delivering learning outcomes mapped to industry standards. NSC member colleges formed regional advisory boards to respond to industry needs and employer requests. These materials include implementation guides with examples and recommendations from colleges whose regional economies support a diversity of industries, such as healthcare, construction, and the military.
Second, NSC programs are one-year, 30-semester-credit academic certificates. Certificates are a highly effective tool for workforce development, and are most effective when they are long enough to be rigorous yet short enough to be achievable. The certificate-level credential is a missing, but critical, on-ramp to career pathways for adult learners who often lack access to and awareness of high-demand careers in STEM fields. Graduates receive the greatest return on investment from certificates of one year or longer with a load of thirty-six semester credits or fewer.
Third, NSC programs use a built-for-completion structure including a program navigator, cohort structure, block scheduling, compressed timeline, enhanced student support services, and employer partnerships. Research has shown that it is the combination of strategies, rather than any single strategy, that boosts student success. Specifically, a growing body of evidence argues for “strategy intervention at a more comprehensive and integrated level that aims at simultaneous change focusing around whole program design and delivery – improving the coherency of instruction and educationally relevant services that students need as they move through their program of study.”
Last, NSC programs embed contextualized refresher instruction in mathematics, communication, and professionalism to eliminate traditional remedial courses and prepare students for success in demanding technical courses. The NSC STEM Readiness course enables students who are not fully college-ready in math to enroll and succeed in the technical curriculum, thus broadening the pool of potential students and opening STEM careers to a greater number of workers.
Colleges aiming for systemic change in their student completion and achievement levels are strongly advised to adopt the entire NSC academic model. However, NSC programs are flexible by design, allowing institutions to customize implementation to their regional economy and local conditions. For example, a college might choose to pursue implementation in stages.