It’s Time to View Industry Credentials Through the Lens of Student Success
Alternative credentials are gaining steam across industries because of their capacity to more clearly indicate the accomplishments, knowledge and skills of credential-holders than traditional degrees and academic transcripts. Industry credentials are certainly not new, but colleges and universities are realizing that they may have a bigger role to play in preparing students to earn them than ever before. In this interview, Roberta Hyland discusses the value of industry credentials for today’s students and shares her thoughts on how the postsecondary space must evolve to better accommodate these unique credentials.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why are industry-based credentials so valuable for students today?
Roberta Hyland (RH): Our student population is diversified and continues to be more diverse, which means their education pathways are incredibly diverse as well. As you look at what students and adult learners are looking for as they continue through their education lifecycle, the different types of credentials they need to pursue at different points in life are unique to their specific circumstances.
Alongside traditional degrees, industry credentials are another vehicle for people to continue their lifelong learning initiatives. In some cases—because they have a tendency to be slightly shorter in life cycle and more focused on a particular discipline or skill—they have immediate meaning and value to the individual. That’s what makes industry credentials valuable for students today.
Evo: How do industry-based credentials and other, more formal higher education credentials relate to each other?
RH: The relationships between industry-based credentials and formal credentials is really interesting. When you look at it from the institutional perspective, a student shows up on campus and the institution does not necessarily know if the student is really there to pursue a full degree program. All they know is that they have a student who’s registered and who’s taking classes. But that student may decide, after taking a couple of classes, that those classes have prepared them for an industry credential exam and choose to pursue that outside of the campus.
When you’re looking at the data on students who actually don’t complete degrees, one of the questions that comes up, even for institutions, is, “Did the student actually get what they needed from the college because they were prepared to earn an industry credential?”
If you don’t make those connections between the traditional educational process and these industry credentials, no one really knows what’s going on. If you start actually looking at the data, when you blend industry credentials and what you know about traditional education attendance and degree completion, you can actually find some patterns that show that these two areas intermingle. A student will take some courses at an college or university, get an industry credential, take some more courses at the institution, possibly continue on and get an associate’s degree, go back and re-skill and get another industry credential.
Watching that weaving back and forth is important to understanding the education pathways of students.
Evo: Are we doing an adequate job of tracking student progress and pathways?
RH: Ultimately that’s what The Clearinghouse is looking to accomplish so that we do have a better way of doing it. The definition of student success can and should be interpreted more broadly than simply receiving a degree.
Ultimately, if the student picks a path that enables them to gain the academic credentials that they need—credential being used in the broadest definition of the word—and that will enable them to achieve their lifelong dream, be it employment or whatever else, then that should be defined as student success.
Right now, we have done a very good job of working within the traditional bounds of student success and now we want to expand that definition. Now we want to expand that definition of student success so we can get into this idea of the student pathway, recognizing that diversity and interweaving these industry credentials into the traditional education experience.
Evo: Are colleges or universities necessary when it comes to the delivery of industry-based credentials?
RH: Higher education institutions are necessary to the delivery of industry credentials. When you look at the design of learning, it’s clear that students learn in a variety of different ways. Looking at industry credentials, there are some very task-specific expectations, but infrastructurally speaking, higher education institutions are built to deliver educational experiences. Individual credential providers can do it too—it depends on how they organize themselves and, of course, different industry credentials are pursued and defined differently—so you have a great diversity there, but when you look at the design of higher education institutions, they contribute to that learning ecosystem. Industry credential providers build into that ecosystem also, but higher education institutions definitely have a role to play in helping learners get the knowledge they need to earn these unique credentials.
Author Perspective: Analyst