It’s Time for an Incremental Credentialing System

Nan Travers, Director, Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning, SUNY Empire State College;

Larry Good, President & CEO, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce;

Holly Zanville, Senior Scholar and Co-Director, Program on Skills, Credentials & Workforce Policy, George Washington Institute of Public Policy, George Washington University

Credential attainment in the United States is in crisis. Even before the pandemic, too many students were unable to complete degrees. They stopped or dropped out of their educational programs for financial, work, family, and other personal reasons — and their learning (knowledge and accomplishments) went unrecognized and undocumented.

The Credential As You Go initiative believes the problems fueling this bleak picture is the very structure of our traditional postsecondary system — a four-tiered degree-based system (associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) that is punitive to students who do not complete. The length of two- and four-year degrees is not unachievable for many students facing competing life circumstances such as work and family. The result: many adults leave school without any recognized credentials. When students have some college but no degree, the learning is rarely bundled into a shorter, recognizable microcredential. In contrast, when the same learning is sealed within a microcredential, it becomes transferrable and can be considered in job searches and promotions.

For the past year, Phase I of Credential As You Go, funded by Lumina Foundation, has been exploring the feasibility of a nationally recognized transferrable incremental credentialing system. This work is summarized in our recent blog, An Rx for an Ailing Postsecondary Education System: Credential As You Go, and presented in a December 8th webinar: Incremental Credentialing: Credential As You Go.

New research by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) underscores growing interest in non-degree credentials by higher education institutions. In MSCHE’s recent summer/fall 2020 survey of member institutions, respondents indicated they are most likely to benefit from future MSCHE support, resources, or programming in areas focused on substantive change, emerging credentials, data, and assessment. Institutions also ranked non-degree offerings as one of their top issues of interest, on a par with distance learning.

The next webinar, Incremental Credentialing: Expanding Perspectives, will be held January 12th from 3–4 pm EST. The session will dive deeper into the issues and trends of the learn-and-work ecosystem and role that incremental credentialing can play to advance education and economic recovery. The national panelists are:

· Holly Zanville, Sr. Scholar and Co-Director, Program on Skills, Credentials and Workforce Policy, George Washington Institute of Public Policy, George Washington University

· Christy Faison, Sr. Vice President for Accreditation Relations, Middle States Commission on Higher Education

· Eric Fotheringham, Director of Community College Partnerships & Adult Learner Initiatives, University of North Carolina System, University of North Carolina System

· Larry Good, President & CEO, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

Registration is available at Incremental Credentialing Registration.

In the past year, Credential As You Go has studied nearly 90 examples of incremental credential programs around the U.S. It’s time to rapid prototype the five main models designed by faculty in the SUNY system (to be described in our next blog) in New York and two other states, particularly at four-year regional universities and community colleges. Implementing the incremental credentialing vision will require a partnership of researchers who have studied the models, accreditation associations, many colleges and universities, and policymakers that set the regulations around the types of credentials higher education institutions may offer. The momentum for this partnership is growing ─ it’s time to take the next steps to improve the nation’s credentialing systems.

Corporation for a Skilled Workforce is a national nonprofit that partners with government, business, and community leaders to support the creation of good jobs