AB 86: A Brief History and Current State of Affairs from the Noncredit Task Force


Current legislation and district activities with K-12 adult education providers seem to have sharpened the focus on local curricular offerings and how exactly students navigate between and within our systems.  The seemingly sudden attention on specific course offerings and discussions of modifying our current system, be it mildly or radically, often is creating anxiety at community colleges throughout California.  This article serves as a primer on the current state of affairs regarding adult education in the state of California and how we have arrived at this juncture in our history. 

The Magnifying Glass

Here are the burning questions: 

Why are there two systems offering similar educational services to the same population with inconsistent funding mechanisms and linkages between them? and

Why is it that within the community college system there are two different funding mechanisms for offering instructional services with the same outcomes?

The Legislative Analysts Office’s (LAO) report “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System” (December 2012) and the Little Hoover Commission’s report “Serving Students, Serving California” (February 2012) focused on these questions.  From their perspective, the state of California provides seemingly similar educational services through two different agencies: adult education through the K-12 system and noncredit and credit instruction through the California Community Colleges (CCC).   From the LAO’s report, 52% of adult education is offered through credit instruction at the CCCs, 14% through noncredit instruction at the CCCs, and 34% through adult schools when evaluating full-time equivalent students.  These educational services are concentrated in three areas:  vocational education, English as a second language, and pre-collegiate basic skills.  The LAO defines anything below college level English and intermediate algebra as pre-collegiate basic skills. 

Smoke and Shadow:  Historical Perspective

The genesis of these intertwining paths dates back to 1856 when the San Francisco Board of Education established its first adult school, the “Center for Americanization,” to address the English language and literacy needs of its growing population. In the early 1900s, school districts in California were given legal authority to offer two programs for adults:

  • adult schools focusing on immigrant education, basic skills and job skills; and
  •  junior colleges covering the first two years of postsecondary education to high school graduates.

Thus began two paths to address the learning needs of California’s population. Over the past century, Californians have regularly revisited these tracks resulting in a history of modifications that led to our current practices: K-12 schools are permitted to offer adult education programs and CCC districts may offer noncredit and credit courses and programs. No mutual agreement is needed between these two systems within the same service area; local control has been the order of the day. With the passage of California Assembly Bill 86 (July 2013), we are again engaged in a dialogue to determine how adult education through a K-12 delivery system and noncredit in the CCCs can work together to address the vital needs of our adult population.

Catching Fire:  The Current Lay of the Land

Currently, there are 112 community colleges in the California Community College system serving more than 485,000 students in registered in noncredit programs. It needs to be noted here that not all community colleges uniformly offer noncredit instruction. Overall, there are more than one million students in some form of  pre-collegiate adult education (K-12, CCC credit instruction, CCC noncredit instruction) throughout the state, represented by 500,000 full-time equivalent students (FTES), according to the LAO.

The alignment and collaboration between the two systems remains challenging. In its report, “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System,” (2012) theLegislative Analyst’s Office stated that the legislature should “promote collaboration between adult schools and community colleges by clearly defining the missions of the two systems.”  The LAO has also recommended that the following courses be offered only as noncredit courses at all CCCs: all English and ESL courses that are below transfer level and all math courses that are below one level below transfer level, such as intermediate algebra. 

The legislature has begun to act upon the recommendations of the LAO.  The continued discussion about governance over the two systems serving similar populations of students with similar needs led to the introduction and successful passage of California Assembly Bill No. 86 (AB 86) approved by the Governor on July 1, 2013. The bill calls for the creation of Adult Education Consortium Programs and the establishment of regional consortia.  Each regional consortium must consist of at least one K-12 school district and at least one CCC district. The goal of the consortium is to develop regional plans that serve community needs for adult education. As a result, the CCCCO and CDE, the agencies historically providing adult education services, created an AB 86 Cabinet and Work Group to develop a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for all adult education providers to respond with the intent to participate in regional consortia. The COE was released on December 19, 2013, and due on January 31, with supporting documents due on February 24, 2014.

To achieve the AB 86 goals of consortia creation the legislature allocated $25 million to the CCCCO, as the fiscal agent, to distribute the grant funds to support a two-year planning and implementation process. Either the K-12 district or the CCC can serve as a fiscal agent for that consortium. Consortia may incorporate other agencies, such as correctional entities or community-based organizations. Classes included in the AB 86 consortia planning grant are:

  • basic skills;
  • high school diploma or high school equivalency certificates;
  • classes for education of immigrants such as ESL and workforce preparation;
  • educational programs for adults with disabilities;
  • short-term career technical education classes with high employment potential; and
  • programs for apprentices.

Consortia are to address gaps in services for adult students. Each consortium is also responsible for evaluation of currently offered adult education programs within its geographical boundaries and for planning the integration of existing programs to create seamless transition paths leading to postsecondary education or workforce. Better program integration and improved student outcomes are to be at the core of those efforts. A joint report submitted to the legislature and the governor, issued by both the CDE and the CCCCO, is due on March 1, 2014 and will include the status of how the consortia across the state are being developed. On March 1, 2015, the CDE and the CCCCO will submit another report to outline plans developed by the regional consortia, thus far, and recommendations for improvements in the system serving adult learners. The legislature is to act upon these reports by developing common policies and providing additional funding in the 2015-16 fiscal year to support the work of the consortia.

Clearing the Smoke:  Shaping the Future of Educational Services for Adults in California

For the next two years our system will engage in these consortia to plan the most efficient and seamless offerings of educational services to adults in the state.  Local senates must engage in these discussions and planning as academic and professional matters are directly impacted.  Specifically, the Noncredit Task Force recommends that local senates do the following:

  • Evaluate the best curricular mechanism to support student success and achievement of basic skills outcomes.

During the planning phase of AB 86, local senates should evaluate how students will achieve basic skills outcomes of competency in English language skills and mathematics on their campuses.  As senates play a primary role in curriculum and standards or policies regarding student preparation and success as part of the 10+1, any conversations as to the placement of courses in ESL, English language acquisition, and math into noncredit should be undertaken by the faculty. The Non-Credit Task Force believes that colleges may need to add noncredit courses or programs in basic skills if current proposals become law.  As such, local senate discussions could focus on what pre-collegiate skills could be addressed in the noncredit modality.  For colleges with few or no current noncredit offerings, it is important to note that there are several CCC districts throughout the state with successful noncredit programs that may serve as models or starting points if colleges decide or funding models are modified such that that this approach to basic skills is their best option. .Local senates can reach out to statewide colleagues to learn about noncredit best practices and different organizational structures for offering noncredit.  Local senates can help facilitate the dynamic interaction among faculty and administrators, as well as between disciplines about how noncredit instruction could be advantageous to students and impact student success. With so much at stake, making the process as organically driven as possible at the local level is clearly beneficial.

A specific response to the LAO report from the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC), based on recommendations from local academic senates, is needed. We cannot wait for those issues to be resolved to act – clearly the legislature is not interested in waiting to move forward.  Right now, the only unified advice to the legislature is from the LAO. The answer to the LAO’s recommendations from the faculty regarding basic skills instruction must be based on sound pedagogy, and the needs of our basic skills students. Faculty compensation concerns must be addressed by our union partners, and the current apportionment formula remains a point of advocacy rooted in several resolutions.  That said, the academic senates must base their recommendations on what is best for the students and the community. 

  • Local senates should ensure clear articulation within the CCC district from noncredit to credit instruction and clear articulation from the K-12 adult education system to the CCC instructional offerings

Unless we are willing to abdicate our role in the instruction of basic skills altogether and shift that responsibility, and presumably budget, to the K-12 district, AB 86 will require local consortia to plan for the seamless transition between noncredit (CCC) and adult education (K-12) and credit (CCC) instruction.  Local populations have varying needs and characteristics; colleges themselves are structured differently, so it follows that in order to fine-tune what best suits a college’s needs, the local faculty senate’s involvement is key. The academic senate is responsible for district and college governance structures, as related to faculty roles.  Some options include offering noncredit courses through current credit divisions; offering all noncredit through a separate noncredit division; and/or offering noncredit instruction through a separate noncredit school that becomes another entity of the college district. These models all exist at community college campuses throughout the state, and local needs should be considered when determining the most fitting structure.  

There are several ways in which local senates can develop and encourage the relationship between noncredit and credit instruction at their campuses and noncredit and adult education classes in their community.  As most communities have broad needs that could require a noncredit program integrated in local course offerings, a logical place to have a conversation is at college planning and budget meetings to determine the right amount of noncredit and credit classes to be offered, based on solid needs assessments, and then to define the best fit and appropriate funding.  Mindful discussions at senate and department meetings about student preparedness could help foster purposeful dialogues at basic skills meetings, where developing math and language skills are squarely addressed.

Smooth bridging from noncredit to credit is fundamental for the success of many of the students in the CCC system. Developing and implementing a successful bridging plan requires much thought, along with quality input and cooperation among many areas working collaboratively. 

Legislation has pushed this conversation that has been simmering for decades to the fore , and local senate involvement in the planning of the education of adults in our communities is essential and immediate. There must be informed discussion at the local level regarding the planning consortia outlined in AB 86, involvement in future state-wide meetings, and a unified faculty response that best fits the needs of California’s adults.  As we move forward, noncredit will become a more vibrant part of the conversation at statewide and regional faculty meetings. It is hoped that these discussions will be carried back to local senates and continued in a thoughtful, student-centered manner.

For now, the AB 86 Work Group coordinates webinars regarding the Legislation every Friday at noon and more information about the Legislation can be found on the AB 86 web site: http://ab86.cccco.edu/.


Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, (2006), The Role of Noncredit in the California Community Colleges. Sacramento, CA. http://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Noncredit_2006.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, Noncredit Ad Hoc Committee, (2009), Noncredit Instruction: Opportunity and Challenge. Sacramento, CA. http://www.asccc.org/papers/noncredit-instruction-opportunity-and-challenge (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (2006). Noncredit at a Glance. Sacramento, CA

http://ccccio.org/documents/NoncreditGuide_5e.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

California Department of Education (2005). A History of Adult Education in California from the Beginnings to the Twenty-First Century. Sacramento, CA  http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ae/ir/documents/meetchallenge.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

California Department of Education, (2007). Joint Board Committee on Noncredit and Adult Education Collection at the California Adult Education Archives. Sacramento County Office of Education, Sacramento, CA

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8h70d67/entire_text/ (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

California Department of Education (2009). Adult Education – CalEdFacts. Retrieved from on January 31, 2014: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ae/po/cefadulted.asp (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

California Master Plan for Higher Education – Major Features (2009).

http://ucfuture.universityofcalifornia.edu/documents/ca_masterplan_summary.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

Eyre, G. A. (2013). An American Heritage, Federal Adult Education: A Legislative History 1964-2013. NOVA Research Company, Bethesda, MD.

https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/Adult_Ed_History_Report.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education, (2002). The California Master Plan for Education.

http://www.ucop.edu/acadinit/mastplan/master_plan2002.pdf (Retrieved Feb 2, 2014)

Legislative Analyst’s Office (2012).  Restructuring California’s Adult Education Systemhttp://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/edu/adult-education/restructuring-adult-education-120412.aspx

Little Hoover Commission (2012).  Serving Students, Serving California:  Updating the California Community Colleges to Meet Evolving Demands.  Report #210.  http://www.lhc.ca.gov/studies/210/report210.html

History of adult education

The Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960, also known as the Master Plan, separated California State University (CSU) and CCC from the California Department of Education (CDE). The University of California (UC) system was designated to be the state’s primary academic research institution and to provide undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. The CSU system was designated to primarily offer undergraduate and graduate education, through the master’s degree. The CCC system was to provide academic and vocational instruction for adults through the first two years of undergraduate education.  Specifically, the CCCs were additionally authorized to provide remedial instruction, English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, adult noncredit courses, community services courses, and workforce training services.  This restructuring of the higher educational system in California resulted in ongoing discussions regarding jurisdiction over which system provides educational services to adults in our communities, adult education (K-12) or noncredit programs (CCC).

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 marked the start of federal involvement in adult literacy. The goal of the federal legislation at that time was to ensure that adults 18 and older had access to Basic Education to eliminate illiteracy, thus providing broader access to employment. Furthermore, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998 (AEFLA), stressed workforce preparedness and resulted in many states actually moving adult education programs from K-12 systems into the community college systems and other community-based organizations.

In 1997, members of the California State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Community Colleges Board of Governors formed a Joint Board Committee on Noncredit and Adult Education to design legislation that would help govern the noncredit and adult education systems in the state. This committee recommended that both systems be under joint jurisdiction, shaped and supported by the same policies. In addition, the committee recommended that both systems should:

  • develop strategies to ensure student success;
  • judiciously share the two systems’ resources;
  • apply the same rules for reimbursement rates in the two systems;
  • establish standards for all programs;
  • develop common data reporting systems;
  • share common instructional strategies;
  • establish rules for work-based education; and
  • equalize instructors’ rights within the two systems.

Budget constraints prohibited these recommendations from being put into reality, but the committee’s work laid ground rules for the CDE and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) to collaborate. The two offices focused their work on five program areas: Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE), ESL, parent education, and older adult education.

Work has continued in an effort to streamline functions of the two systems.  In 2002, the Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education – kindergarten through university – issued its final report that stressed the importance of accountability, funding, governance, and reciprocity on the basis of equal funding for the two systems. Course standards, ongoing professional development, review of the governing structure, and student performance measures were also emphasized. But probably the most far reaching recommendation from this committee’s work came in the form of a call to the CCCCO and the CDE to develop a streamlined transition system under one jurisdiction so that the two administrative structures could be effectively merged. The resulting concern from the K-12 community stopped the recommendation from implementation but the work to combine the two systems continued.