We’re happy to welcome Deb Everhart, Georgetown University, back to the Frontiers blog.  Today Deb is sharing work she did with ACE on connected credentials and the value of competencies.  Our own Mike Abbiatti worked on this with her and we are so excited to share the story with you.  Also, don’t miss our April 17th Google Hangout where Deb and I will discuss this work.  Feel free to send your questions ahead via twitter (#WCETHangout) or email.  Thank you Deb, for always being so generous with your knowledge. – Cali Morrison, WCET Communications Manager

Today and for the future we are all lifelong learners. No one can expect to stay in a stable career with a known set of responsibilities, and if we’re not continuously adding to our knowledge, skills, and abilities, we’re not going to solve the increasingly complex problems we encounter in our careers—and in fact, in our world. How can postsecondary credentialing ecosystems evolve to meet these needs?

The American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Education Attainment and Innovation has just published two interrelated white papers that address this critical question, Communicating the Value of Competencies and Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials. Scores of experts from higher education, policy, workforce, and national organizations worked together to analyze:

  • How employers value and assess students’ competencies;
  • The quality dimensions of connected credentials (transparency, modularity, portability, relevance, validity, and equity);
  • How educational institutions can improve their credentials and clearly articulate competencies to provide greater value and meet the needs of stakeholders.

Why is this work important, and why now?

Because credentials have rapidly proliferated to meet the needs of the 21st-century knowledge economy, including not only degrees, but also certificates, certifications, licensures, and badges.

Here are just a few facts to give you a sense of the magnitude of change:

  • over 26,000 educational programs in the U.S. now offer certificates; (McCarthy)
  • Associate degrees have doubled since 2002; (Lumina)
  • the share of workers licensed by states has increased five-fold since the 1950’s, and now more than 25% of workers require licensure to do their jobs. (U.S. DOL)

The proliferation of credentials and new types of educational opportunities is not, per se, a bad thing. The highly diverse array of credentials reflects the strengths and ingenuity of U.S. education, training, and professional development systems in response to changes in our economy. The evolution from an industrial to a knowledge economy has naturally created a world in which more jobs (and the majority of good jobs) require critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and in general, higher levels of ever-changing skills and abilities.

But the diversity of credentials isn’t meeting the needs of students, educational institutions, and employers, and unfortunately it’s causing confusion. There’s a lack of shared understanding about what makes credentials valuable, how that value varies across different types of credentials for different stakeholders, what constitutes quality, and how credentials are connected to each other and to opportunities for the people who’ve earned them.

These big picture concerns play out in the individual struggles students face when they try to apply their educational achievements to employment and career advancement. Students struggle to articulate their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Employers often don’t understand what is included in credentials, so they make assumptions about what certain credentials mean and what graduates should know and be able to do. Improved communication about the competencies that are included in credentials can help address these problems.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAYQvQgLIrk]


Right Credentials for the Right People at the Right Time

Many creative approaches are emerging that could potentially scale and evolve to help more people gain and articulate the competencies they need for successful careers, contributions to communities of practice, and solving problems large and small. But this potential depends on stakeholders’ ability to understand and utilize the right credentials for the right people at the right time.

WCET’s own Mike Abbiatti was one of the major contributors to the ACE work, and he frames up how the white papers can help us tackle these issues:

“Higher education stands at a crossroads. We are reviewing and revising our core standards and processes in order to align the investments in time, people, and money with the true needs of complex and ever-expanding learner populations. These ACE white papers are a critical asset as we make the transition from merely assuming our students are getting the preparation they need, to actually demonstrating outcomes that provide immediate and future opportunities for the learner.

Created by leaders in the academic, regulatory, and employer markets, these white papers represent a thorough analysis of the current status of traditional credentialing and propose the desired future state. Furthermore, they provide stakeholders with actionable recommendations that will empower higher education to keep pace with the burgeoning digital economy.

The future of our nation depends upon a highly educated, personally motivated, and sustainable workforce. The era of generating credentials by evaluating input is over. We must base our credentials upon output and outcomes. The ability to demonstrate the skills, attitudes, and intellectual growth promised by the educational system must be quantifiable, verifiable, and scalable to specific standards. The ACE white papers are a ‘shot across the bow’ in a dynamic campaign to streamline the process of preparing America’s current and future citizens to be productive citizens of the global economy.”

To promote dialogue and action, the white papers include:

  • definitions of key terms,
  • research insights,
  • descriptions of stakeholders and the problems they encounter,
  • dimensions of quality that support connected credentials and competencies,
  • descriptions of types of credentials with regard to how they address the quality dimensions,
  • challenge questions to stimulate discussion and visualize potential futures,
  • a fictitious scenario that depicts one possible journey from current state to future benefits,
  • and specific calls to action.

Positive change will flourish when we articulate and implement specific improvements that address relevant problems. We need to visualize potential futures, act, and continually refine our approaches to create dynamic systems that combine rigor and agility to produce credentials valued by all stakeholders– employers, government, educators, job seekers and learners.


deb everhart-150x150Dr. Deborah Everhart

Georgetown University




1 reply on “Connected Credentials and the Value of Competencies”

The key element that is missing in all this is the “mentor” or “guide” that helps individuals to integrate the pieces that are needed in a meaningful way. The best practical example is Western Governors University. The most meaningful metaphor is Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: Or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.

There were, at one time, guidance counselors that could help individuals to build the “story” weaving competencies to focus the capabilities. All the work in the two documents is to try to create the equivalent of a standard parts catalog to assemble pieces.

The use of artificial intelligence such as Watson’s children is approaching capabilities of extracting the relevant information from disparate documents and even graphics and write a narrative that creates a synthesis in a form needed with the help of the individual and a counselor.

The approaches represented here are perpetuating an old model in the face of a disruptive system well described by the models of Clayton Christensen.

The problem, as alluded to in these documents is the instability of the system to create such a static set of norms and forms when AI, right now, has search capabilities that are in use along with an emergent capability to construct coherent narratives which are appearing regularly but not so identified.

Until there is a shift in the approach, a lot more money and time will be expended by not rethinking the whole approach.

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