student success

Bringing order to credentialing

By Ellie Ashford

Several interconnected efforts are under way to develop a framework of credentials.

Several national initiatives are under way to bring some clarity to the concepts of competencies and credentials – and connect them in a meaningful way.

Officials from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and other organizations described their work at AACC’s Workforce Development Institute.

AACC’S Right Signals initiative is aimed at building a new credentialing model that brings a common language and transparency to the array of existing credentials, such as degrees, certificates, apprenticeships and industry certifications. Twenty community colleges are participating in this effort.

Lumina Foundation, which is funding Right Signals, is building on its efforts to spark a national dialogue on what credentials really mean. That effort led to a prototype for a national registry of credentials called Credential Engine. That initiative, said strategy director Holly Zanville, is based on the foundation’s goal of ensuring 60 percent of Americans have a degree, certificate or other postsecondary credential by 2025.

Because “not everything you learn is in the classroom,” Zanville said, the foundation is working on models for a new “learning passport,” that would capture all student records in an extended transcript, along with a record of what was learned on the job

Dozens of colleges, industry groups that confer certifications and other organizations have joined Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization created to scale up the registry. In September, Credential Engine introduced a prototype search engine app called Workit.

Bringing order

Lumina partnered with the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) to bring order to the chaotic credentialing marketplace through a tool called the Connecting Credentials Framework. The eight-level framework, currently undergoing beta testing, is a reference tool to build profiles of industry certificates, licenses and other types of credentials, said Susan Lupo, senior policy associate at CSW.

Connecting Credentials aims to produce the process and tools that align a curriculum to job tasks; articulate pathways; create a common language; align programs, courses and assessments; develop instruction; validate credential quality; embed credentials in transcripts; reduce silos; and enhance transparency.

“It allows for a way to think about connections,” Lupo said. It’s all about “the skills human beings need in the workplace,” and it’s based on the concept that “competencies are currency.”

Pathways to employment

“Every student is ultimately seeking a job,” said Kay McClenney, senior advisor to the president of AACC.

McClenney is interested in seeing how the efforts to develop frameworks around workplace competencies tie in with AACC’s work on guided pathways.

Two of the colleges in Right Signals – South Seattle College in Washington and Columbus State Community College in Ohio – are also participating in AACC’s Pathways Project. At the heart of the pathways concept is the creation of curriculum maps that outline the steps from when students enter college to the completion of a credential.

“We’re not interested in building six-lane highways into a swamp. We want to create real opportunities that lead to transfer or a job,” McClenney said.

The idea is to start with the end in mind – the labor market or a university – and design a curriculum to get there, she said. “The most common outcome is the accumulation of credits and debt and no credential. Pathways is intended to fix that,” she said.

Most institutions haven’t done a good job of equipping students to make an informed choice about careers and pathways, McClenney noted. Colleges in the Pathways initiative are helping students do that by strengthening their advising services.

Read the full article at Community College Daily.

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.