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Developing an Action Plan to Forge a 21st-Century Credentialing Ecosystem

Co-written with Holly Zanville | Strategy Director, Lumina Foundation

The EvoLLLution | Developing an Action Plan to Forge a 21st-Century Credentialing Ecosystem
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.

There’s a new entry to the conversation around credentialing—it’s not another report on the problems in our credentialing system in the U.S., but a plan for solutions. That’s not to say that it isn’t important to understand our problems and challenges; we have been part of creating a wealth of material that outlines why credentialing reform is urgent. The new addition to this discussion is a seven-point action plan that offers a holistic picture of the mix of work—a great deal of work—that is needed to solve our many credentialing challenges.

Today, Lumina Foundation and Corporation for a Skilled Workforce published Connecting Credentials: From National Dialogue to Collective Action. The plan was developed from input from hundreds of diverse credentialing stakeholders throughout the U.S., who contributed through a year-long national dialogue, a summit, and five work groups to formulate priorities for action.

The plan identifies seven areas for action, 25 specific actions to be undertaken, and more than 100 ways those actions can be accomplished. The key areas for action are:

1. Develop scalable ways to engage employers in the credentialing marketplace.

2. Empower learners to navigate the credentialing ecosystem.

3. Develop common language centered on competencies.

4. Create an open, interoperable data and technology infrastructure.

5. Foster shared understanding of credential quality among stakeholders and reciprocity among quality assurance processes.

6. Pursue public policy agenda that advances equity in the credentialing ecosystem.

7. Promote field-based development of new credentialing tools, policies and practices.

The plan calls for simultaneous action on all seven fronts; no priority can be left out or left to lag. The plan also recognizes that no one group can reshape credentialing in the U.S. Rather, interconnected work in these action areas is required to build the well functioning ecosystem we envision. The action plan argues strongly that stakeholders at all levels (national, state, local) and from all perspectives (business, labor, education, learner) should dive in and tackle changes they see as crucial. The plan offers specific ideas for what different types of stakeholders can tackle that will contribute to systemic improvement in credentialing.

The good news is there are great initiatives in action now that can be built upon in every one of the seven priority areas. The plan identifies examples of many of these, ranging from creating new tools (Credentials Registry, Connecting Credentials Framework) to field-based change strategies (Talent Pipeline Management, Education Data Performance System, Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment, community colleges embedding industry certifications into their programs).

Invariably, there is the “so what” question: Why does this all matter?

In our knowledge-based economy, postsecondary credentials (degrees, certificates, industry certifications, licenses, badges and micro-credentials) are the currency through which people’s competencies, upward mobility and employability are assessed and recognized. Credentials connect people to jobs, help employers find the skilled workers they need, and link educational and training programs to each other—often via structured pathways.

The proliferation of educational options and wide array of postsecondary credentials in the U.S. marketplace provide a great national opportunity. Credentials can help increase social mobility and economic opportunity for learners and help employers meet their talent needs in an increasingly competitive, rapidly changing and uncertain global economy.

We’re not realizing that potential today. Too many learners—especially low-income, minority and otherwise underserved students—find credentialing options confusing and chaotic, leading to too many dead ends. And beyond using the bachelor’s degree as a rough proxy for work readiness, many employers struggle to understand how to interpret credentials and see the return on investment in using them in their hiring and promotional practices.

What has emerged from the Connecting Credentials national dialogue is a shared vision of a healthy, sustainable credentialing ecosystem. This is an ecosystem in which credentials are portable, transferable, transparent, useful, and easily understood by students, learners and employers. This is an ecosystem in which common language, based in competencies and learning outcomes, connects the multiplicity of credentials. In this system, learners, employers and educators all understand the value of a wide range of credentials and can make informed choices about their use. And, the ecosystem will be supported by technology and data tools that make credential interoperability feasible.

The action plan comes from Connecting Credentials, an informal network of more than 100 organizations spanning business, education, labor, accreditation/certification, government, and technical/data services providers. Connecting Credentials seeks to connect the dots among the hundreds of innovative initiatives in policy change and practice and to help those working on credentialing change to achieve their goals. Key resources to support credentialing reform can be found at our website.

Development of the action plan and continuing support for the Connecting Credentials effort during the forthcoming action phase is made possible by a grant to Corporation for a Skilled Workforce from Lumina Foundation.

Click here to download Connecting Credentials: From National Dialogue to Collective Action. To see an executive summary of the action plan, please click here.

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