Adult learners often worry about the logistics of returning to school, but microcredentials offer a straightforward path to learning

Defining high-quality microcredentials for higher ed

Adult learners often worry about the logistics of returning to school, but microcredentials offer a straightforward path to learning

Editor’s note: eCampus News is exploring the future and potential of microcredentials in a multi-story series. Check back each week for fresh perspectives from educators and industry experts.

Later this month, the State University of New York (SUNY) will represent the United States in the Global Dialogue on Microcredentials, sponsored by the European Union’s Erasmus+ Programme. SUNY is the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education with 64 institutions (community colleges, technology colleges, comprehensive colleges, and doctoral institutions including R1 research and medical universities) located across New York State and its microcredential program continues to be recognized as an exemplar.

SUNY currently offers 435 microcredentials in 60+ disciplines across 31 campuses, each grounded in a 2018 system-wide policy developed with broad input from across the University. Microcredentials are smaller credentials that can be completed in months, not years, and they tend to be more narrowly focused. SUNY defines high-quality microcredentials as those that provide the earner with academically rigorous instruction, immediate in-demand skills, and, wherever possible, a pathway to additional credentials.

One of the early higher education adopters of microcredentials, SUNY’s program centers on: academic quality; alignment to industry and professional standards; pathways to certificates, initial and/or advanced degrees (stackability); formal recognition of completion via a transcript and digital badge (portability); and recognition of microcredentials for multiple audiences. These criteria are the hallmarks that nearly every national/international report on the subject identify as priority. Faculty wanted to ensure that microcredentials would have the same quality as SUNY certificate and degree programs and so, on campus, microcredentials follow a formal process that includes faculty governance—while still encouraging faculty innovation and responsiveness. Now four years in—with expansive growth in the past year as more campuses saw microcredentials as a means to serve learners, communities, and businesses impacted by the pandemic—SUNY’s policy-driven quality framework for microcredentials has proven to be effective.

The most common SUNY microcredential consists of three courses, but there are microcredentials that have two to five courses, and they can include an internship or industry certification. There are microcredential series—beginner, intermediate and advanced, and also non-credit instruction meant for professional development. Innovative microcredentials are designed with multiple entrance and exit points (see diagram below) and highlight progressive pathways.

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