Alternative and Next-Generation Credentialing
With the resurgence and expansion of competency-based education, we’ve seen the value both students and employers put into mastery and learning outcomes. With the expansion and success of coding bootcamps—as well as institutional non-credit offerings—we’ve come to understand that a degree is not the ultimate goal for many learners.
This Special Feature explores the new higher education reality and shares some insights into how colleges and universities can compete and succeed in today’s rich and competitive postsecondary marketplace.
The Changing Priorities of Higher Education Institutions
Innovative credentials still represent just a drop in the bucket when it comes to total dollars spent in the postsecondary space, but with greater employer recognition and participation they could be truly transformative.
Stephen Wright | Director of Information Communications Technologies and Digital Media Sector, Doing What Matters for Jobs & the Economy, Economic & Workforce Development, California Community Colleges System
Digital badges provide community colleges with new ways to forge career pathways for students who are not necessarily enrolling in higher education to earn a degree, but to get a job.
By improving access to flexible, alternative postsecondary credentials, colleges and universities can make huge strides in smoothing the transition into the civilian labor market for military veterans.
How Student Demand is Transforming Credentialing
The number of students earning multiple credentials is already rising—colleges and universities need to do more to formalize the non-conventional pathways students are already taking to earn their degrees.
Alternative credentials will not replace degrees but are strongly following the disruptive innovation process outlined by Clayton Christensen.
Where Are Alternative Options Moving Higher Education?
Irene Cravey | Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Texas State Technical College and Celina Garza | Associate Vice President for Institutional Assessment, Texas State Technical College-Harlingen
The capacity to microcredential through competency-based education formats allows colleges to ensure their content remains relevant and responsive to the needs of students and the labor market.
By making use of blockchain verification, stackable credentials can grow to meet the specific needs of today’s just-in-time, dynamic labor market.
The Value of Alternative Credentialing for Students and Institutions
Institutions can use microcredentials as a platform to stand out from the crowd, but their offerings must be verifiable and of the maximum quality possible in order to serve as an effective differentiator.
As the traditional college transcript and CV falls further and further out of vogue among employers, colleges and universities need to turn to more competency-focused credentials like badges to communicate their graduates’ skills to potential employers.
Though alternative credentials have yet to overtake traditional degrees in value—perceived or otherwise—their focus on short-term benefits and demand responsiveness could lead to a longer-term shift in the powers of each respective credential.
Alternative Credentialing from the Community College Perspective
The focus on improving student outcomes starts with ensuring that institutions are directly meeting the needs and expectations of their students. In many cases, this means moving away from the bread-and-butter degrees towards high-demand non-degree certificate and certification programming.
While bootcamps provide the hard skills students need to get a job, community colleges teach those hard skills as well as the soft skills students need to get a career.
Matthew Meyer | Associate Vice President for STEM Innovation and Strategic Planning, North Carolina Community College System and Anne Bacon | Director of Strategic Innovation, North Carolina Community College System
As community colleges begin to deliver a wider range of credentials, including but not limited to degrees, it’s critical that a national certification system be established to provide critical information to all key stakeholders regarding their value and potential.
Creating a New Model with Alternative Providers
With students demanding more choice and employers looking for more specific credentials, colleges and universities need to work harder to ensure they’re providing alternative pathways for students to prepare themselves for the labor market.
By taking advantage of an innovative and forward-thinking government experiment, SUNY Empire State and Flatiron School have created low-cost access to critical workforce development programming that can transfer seamlessly into a traditional degree program.
The Ins and Outs of Managing Competency-Based Offerings
Navigating the CBE Frontier: Creative and Alternative Student Support for Creative and Alternative Models of Education
Though the Department of Education has taken steps to create more access to alternative and innovative programs for students, more must be done to get away from the faculty-centric model that underpins the federal regulatory standards.
When an institution introduces a new educational model designed to create new approaches to learning for students, they also need to consider how to adapt the institutional business model to accommodate the change.
Widening the Understanding of Alternative Credentials
Badging has the capacity to serve as a complementary feature in a strong competency-based education, helping to create deeper levels of understanding and engagement among students.
Alternative credentials have the opportunity to transform workforce education and preparation, but more must be done to create a common understanding of what these credentials represent.
Widening the Understanding of Alternative Credentials
Though alternative credentials have burst onto the scene as a way to better illustrate and understand the accomplishments of students, the rising numbers of alternative credentials could make this advantage short-lived unless a common language is established.
The biggest hurdle for career and technical education program providers to overcome is the false equivalencies that prospective students may draw between the institution’s CTE offerings and their degree offerings.
Mainstreaming Non-Credit Credentialing
Transforming the non-credit model is the first step towards creating new and innovative pathways to the labor market for individuals. The second step is transforming internal processes to make it a reality.
While faculty should have final say on all competency-based curricula, student demand and industry requirements must play a role in the competencies being delivered.
The Role of Continuing Education in the Alternative Credentials Space
As learning moves from a one-time event to a lifetime commitment for today’s professionals, education providers have to find new access points and opportunities that meet the needs of the labor market.
As the skills required to get and maintain jobs become increasingly complex, and as adults begin to see their careers as a multi-industry progression, non-credit divisions need to be more active in delivering programs that deliver the critical skills professionals need to advance.
Creating Space for the Stackable Model
Increasing numbers of non-traditional students are looking for postsecondary opportunities every day, and institutions need to develop unique and specialized programs designed specifically to suit their needs.
With the vast array of competing and complex credentials in the postsecondary ecosystem, it’s critical to develop a plan that defines their place and value for the benefit of students, employers and institutions alike.
Diversification is an Opportunity, Not a Challenge
Far from being a threat, bootcamps have been highly effective in helping higher education leaders understand that there are alternative and valid ways for students to get their education.
Higher education institutions need to move past the simple role of degree factories into places where students are nurtured and allowed to grow, which means opening up an array of new learning pathways and outcomes.
Colleges and universities were slow out of the gate in creating programs to meet the labor market demands of the tech sector, and now they need to contend with the bootcamps that are dominating the space.
By developing a robust array of badges as professional development microcredentials, it’s possible to support buy-in for the adoption of new tools and pedagogies across the institution.
How Alternative Credentials Impact Higher Education’s Unbundling
The transition towards unbundled, alternative credentials could spell significant benefits for students, employers and institutions forward-thinking enough to see the opportunity.
As alternative approaches to postsecondary education become more common, the fundamental work of the higher education institution will evolve.
How Alternative Credentialing Will Impact HIgher Education’s Future
As alternative credentials continue to gain steam, the higher education marketplace is moving towards a place where they will simply be considered “credentials.”
Microcredentials fill a critical void in the postsecondary space that helps to close the skills gap and provide individuals the competencies they need to enter and succeed in the labor market.
Though badges currently exist in a type of Wild West, where there are significant quality differences between various options, there are models currently in place to transform their position in the diverse credentials ecosystem.
The Transformative Power of Alternative Credentialing
There are four key characteristics that could transform badges from being a fun side-project to a critical and valuable approach to microcredentialing that creates immense value for employers and students alike.
Like the eCommerce boom in the 1990s and 2000s, the demand for credentialed workers in the labor market will drive a massive increase in the number of alternative credentials awarded by 2025.
A widespread move toward digital credentials has the capacity to minimize bureaucratic inconveniences while improving portability of every type of learning recognition, but there are some major bumps in the road that must be smoothed out first.
Alternative Credentials and Employability
Making more data on labor market success available for prospective students will provide the critical information learners need to determine the best programs to suit their ambitions.
Industry credentials serve a critical role in helping individuals get work in certain high-demand industries, and colleges and universities have a role to play in helping students prepare to earn these credentials.
Microcredentialing creates opportunities for employers to better understand the competencies and skills of employees while professionals gain globally portable and verified credentials to prove their abilities anywhere.
Alternative credentials create faster pathways for individuals to gain entry into the labor market, but in order to be successful they should be designed with the same principles that make credit-bearing programs successful.
The Role of Alternative Providers in the Digital Credential Era
As employers and job-seekers begin to recognize the value of microcredentials, higher education institutions will have to do more to ensure they’re certifying hard and soft skills while transitioning to more of a lifelong learning model.
In the already-competitive higher education marketplace, the reduction in size of barriers to access for alternative providers means that colleges and universities are going to have to work even harder to attract and retain learners.
As ongoing learning becomes increasingly important to participation in the labor market, learners who may have previously been enrolled for personal growth are beginning to see the professional value of education as well.
Understanding the Space and Impact of Alternative Credentials
As traditional postsecondary education costs continue to rise, microcredentials and other alternative approaches to higher education are providing affordable and accessible solutions that likely won’t replace, but will complement traditional degrees.
Certifications show a level of knowledge and competency that instill confidence in employers and, as such, serve as labor market differentiators for job seekers.
Alternative credentials are meeting a clear market demand for more granular recognition of learning, and so long as the alternative credential ecosystem avoids a few critical concerns they will become mainstream offerings for colleges and universities nationwide.
While microcredentials have grown spectacularly both in numbers and impact, there are still questions to be answered around student control and privacy.
With the increased information and data that badges bring to the table, their value more than outweighs the concern over credential glut.