5 Vital Focus Areas for Postsecondary Credentials

Through the Connecting Credentials partnership and summit, a vision of a better credentialing system is emerging. The overall consensus of the summit was that a better system must: be centered on learning and defining credentials according to the knowledge and skills that students obtain; be equitable for all students; change dynamically according to what is relevant in the job market; display a transparent understanding of value for the knowledge and skills that each credential represents; be scaleable so that system-wide change can be achieved; and be supportive of innovation.

In order to bring about such a system, the report offers five vital focus areas that must be focused on in order to bring about change:

The first major step is to develop a common language. There must be a common way of explaining credentials in terms of the competencies that each represents, which would then allow different credentials to be more justly compared and connected and advance the goal of having a system centered on learning as the key outcome. This would allow students to more easily select programs relevant to their goals, employers to readily assess the knowledge and skills that prospective hires would bring to the job market, educators to have a basis for developing new and better credentials for today’s job market, and governmental agencies to be able to more easily navigate the system to award financial aid.

Next, it is essential to increase the use of technology and real-time data. Better utilizing these resources could translate the new common language into a digital form using meta data, and then create a digital hub for credentials with technological interfaces that learners and employers could use to research different credentials.

It is also highly important to create nimble quality-assurance processes. Beyond simply increasing the number of people who obtain credentials, it is even more vital to ensure that credentials are of high quality so that workers enter the workforce prepared to thrive, and so that all stakeholders trust the validity of a credential when it is presented. This will take very careful development, but the Connecting Credentials summit agreed that how to assess learners’ progress would be the key to creating a worthwhile system of quality assessment.

Developing scaleable ways of engaging employers is the fourth major step. In order to ensure that credentials are relevant, employers must offer timely feedback on the types of skills and qualifications they are seeking and how well certain credentials fit those criteria. Technology would prove instrumental in achieving this goal, but collaborations need to occur within industries, across industries, within regions, and nationally.

Finally, the last vital step is to build credentialing pathways to increase equity. With a connected credentials system, it’s possible to link quality credentials with meaningful career pathways, which would show learners the options, opportunities and consequences of pursing various career avenues. This is something that has been more difficult for students of color to see, which has resulted in lower credential attainment or certificates that carry little labor market value or opportunity for progression in education. By ensuring pathways offer crucial credential information and various means of support, attainment among first-generation and minority students can rise and lead to greater social equity across the board, states the report.

Other key issues raised at the summit included removing the stigma that is sometimes associated with non-degree credentials, as well as overcoming the traditional model of awarding credentials based solely on seat time, as opposed to better rewarding the past experiences of learners.

The Connecting Credentials initiative is currently establishing work groups that will delve further into each of these five areas. Additionally, they have found that there are already more than 100 other projects currently underway to better connect credentials, ensure their quality and keep them up to date.

Connecting Credentials has launched a website offering a robust supply of information with the aim of helping stakeholders establish common goals and values, determine priorities for action, and align reform efforts. In order to join the dialogue, participate in interactive webinars, become a co-sponsor, contribute to the landscape review, connect with peers, collaborate, or take action, visit their website here.

About the Author:

Ronald Bethke


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