Board Buzzwords - Academic Terms

60-year curriculum

refers to a vision of continuing education for life-long learning. This vision sees colleges and universities as a lifelong partner with learners at all stages of their lives and careers, providing knowledge and skills throughout their entire lives.

academic advising

processes to assist students in course selection and developing academic milestones and goals, typically for degree completion. Some institutions have adopted electronic tools to assist such as automated degree audits, degree and career pathways, and automated advising and planning platforms. (See also degree audits.)    

academic maps

quarter-by-quarter or semester-by-semester sequences of courses required to complete a degree within a predetermined time frame, for example, two years at a community college and four years at a university.

academic prioritization

Selection and assessment of viability of academic programs by an institution. Criteria vary depending on institutional processes: cost, employment projections, potential growth or improvement, demand, instructional quality, etc.

alternative credit

In the academic context, alternative credit is getting college credit for learning completed outside of the conventional classroom setting and makes a degree more attainable.   National organizations like ACE are developing consortia and projects like the Alternative Credit Project to broaden the ability of students to receive credit for learning and skills completed in other than the traditional or online classroom.  Different institutions have various ways of accepting alternative credit. Alternative credit boosts nontraditional learners.

applied baccalaureate

a four-year bachelor’s degree program in an applied field of study earned at a four-year or two-year institution.  Applied learning refers to an educational approach whereby students learn by engaging in direct application of skills, theories and models. Applied learning can occur outside of the traditional academic classroom experience and/or be embedded as part of a course. An AB Degree is a degree program focused on applied learning typically found at four-year institutions of higher learning; the community college baccalaureate is typically an AB degree. (See also community college baccalaureate.)

articulation, articulation agreement

Also called transfer agreements, articulation agreements delineate pathways of coursework to a degree among programs and institutions and are meant to simplify transition and assure that successful completion of delineated coursework leads to degree completion. Articulation promotes ease of transfer with little or no loss of earned credits.


in context of higher education, making judgments, appraisal of performance and student placement and learning.  Assessing student learning without standardized tests is one strategy that many colleges and universities are implementing. (See multiple measures.)

blended learning

any combination of traditional classroom, face-to-face, hands-on learning also utilizing digital and online technologies and E-Learning. (See E-Learning below.) In several studies, blended learning is on the rise in colleges.

cafeteria approach:

allowing students to have choices in courses they take as opposed to a pathway approach with more prescribed coursework leading directly to a credential or degree. The term was popularized in Thomas Bailey and Shanna Smith Jagger’s Redesigning America’s Community Colleges, A Clearer Path to Student Success (2015).

bundling (rebundling and unbundling)

Terms taken from the banking industry, now being applied to higher education, as the pivot to remote learning by community colleges and universities across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic has posed questions and disruptive innovations regarding the components and their correlating costs of higher education

Students pay tuition for courses and curricular requirements, some of which are not related to their major, but are “bundled” together in a package or pathway for students.

Refers to the concept of unbundling many of the components that make up the traditional approach to higher education: time, and can apply to the curriculum, courses, content, credentialing, campus life, personal growth, and subcomponents of teaching and learning such as coaches, mentors, learning communities, personal learning plans, pathways, employer connections, etc. which are services that have become more modular (Michael Horn, Forbes, July 2020)

“Rebundling” means repacking those components into new components and models. 

career pathways

According to the U.S. Departments of  Education, Health and Human Services, career pathways are a series of connected education and training strategies and support services that enable individuals to secure industry-relevant certification and obtain employment within an occupational area and to advance to higher levels of future education and employment in that area.  MDRC Research on Career Pathways identifies core elements such as alignment of connected education strategies and multiple entry and exit points and others.

Carnegie unit and student hour

Time-based measurement of educational attainment currently used by American colleges and universities. The original definition of the Carnegie Unit is 120 hours of class or contact time with an instructor spread over the school year. Used today, the student hour is aligned with 50 minutes of lecture time or 12 hours of class/contact time per week over a semester, usually 14-16 weeks.

In the context of online or virtual education as the predominant form of learning during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, many educators feel that now may be the time to move away from the Carnegie Unit as an outdated way to measure student learning. In 2010, the Ed Department codified the general practice of counting the credit hour as one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of work outside the classroom each week. Its goal was to clarify the amount of expected academic effort associated with a given course and give accreditors/schools a consistent standard. Many educators believe it is necessary to broaden the definition of the credit hour to one that focuses on student learning rather than “seat time” and is flexible enough to account for innovations (such as competency-based education) in the delivery models used by institutions.


non-degree awards that typically require less time to complete than degrees. Certificates are increasingly more important in postsecondary education and have rapidly proliferated particularly in vocational training and to their higher completion rates relative to associate degree programs.

coaching, student coaching

In lieu of traditional academic advising strategies, providing coaches has proven to be an effective retention strategy for at-risk students.   Coaches provide a more holistic approach to student needs and work with students on a range of issues, from financing their education, personal wellness and career readiness. Some colleges have added coaches in addition to their academic advising services.

collegiate high school

A dual credit program in which high school students take college-level courses, sometimes called collegiate academies. Students are able to get their high school diploma and earn college credits.

community college baccalaureate

is a four-year bachelor’s degree program conferred at a community college. Typically, the degrees earned are Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) and/or Bachelor of Technology (BAT) and are focused on applied learning tied to a profession or industry.

competency-based education (CBE)

aims to be a way for students to get credit for what they know, build on their knowledge and skills by learning more at their own pace and earn high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials that help them in their lives and careers. CBE  programs may offer an alternative for learners who have developed skills and knowledge though life and work experiences and training.  Using credentials, CBE may indicate skills that new employees have when they are hired.  Sometimes called “direct assessment.” Regional accrediting agencies across the U.S. have developed a common framework defining competency-based direct assessment.  Actually defining competency still remains elusive, but CBE programs are expanding.


is typically defined as students earning a credential, degree or license; for some programs and colleges, completion can refer to successful transfer to a four-year institution.  It is  defined a variety of ways by different colleges.  Improving community college completion rates should be a top priority for policymakers at all levels of government, employers, community colleges, and the philanthropic community. Earning a postsecondary credential or degree provides a gateway to higher average earnings and opens up career pathways for graduates, while higher completion rates help strengthen the American workforce. Improving community college completion rates also refers to completion initiatives which address removing barriers for students.

Completion by Design (CBD)

Bill & Melinda Gates-funded Completion by Design (CBD) initiative, which began in 2011. CBD was based on the following principles:

(1) Accelerate entry into coherent programs of study.
(2) Minimize the time required to get college ready.
(3) Ensure that students know the requirements to succeed.
(4) Customize and contextualize instruction.
(5) Integrate student supports with instruction.
(6) Continually monitor student progress and proactively provide feedback.
(7) Reward behaviors that contribute to completion.
(8) Leverage technology to improve learning and program delivery.

continuity of education

  • Phrase referring to teachers providing distance learning experiences for students that include new skills and knowledge so that students can progress in their studies.
  • To support continued learning during the extended college closure period.

corequisite remediation

Underprepared students receive extra support while enrolled in credit-bearing college-level classes, alleviating the need and the time spent taking remedial or developmental, often non-credit coursework. Recent studies and reports have demonstrated corequisite remediation as a “best practice” rather than having students take prerequisite coursework.  The State of Texas, for example, adopted this reform in June 2017 in collaboration with Complete College America. Nevertheless, current  research questions the effectiveness as compared to traditional remediation.


  • Degree which combines the best of a liberal arts education with skills training.
  • A blended degree of technical skills and liberal arts critical thinking skills; word formed from “credential” and “degree.”

credential/credentials framework

refers to the skills, knowledge and competencies underpinning educational programs. Because the competencies students might develop through each degree, certificate, license or badge are difficult to discern, and even more difficult to organize into a coherent, successful development path, the Lumina Foundation has developed a credentials framework which uses competencies to identify what the learner knows and is able to do.  Many large tech companies like Google and Amazon are expanding their postsecondary credential offerings.  Online resources like the Credential Finder help learners identify potential certificates for skills they wish to develop. Developing uniformity and transparency in the marketplace of credentials has been the goal of organizations like Credential Engine which has produced a Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL) Handbook. (See digital badge and stackable credentials below.)

critical thinking

is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. Many argue that the humanities foster both creative and critical thinking.

degree audit

Process to identify all of the requirements for a degree, including (but not limited to) credit hours, required coursework, core and major requirements, residency requirements and other elements. The audit to track progress toward degree completion identifies if a requirement has or has not been fulfilled or if it is in progress. An efficient and fast degree audit can be an automated system.