Mapping a ‘Credential As You Go’ movement for higher education

Enrolling in college is not the same as getting a college degree.

This is a distinction which, when stated, seems fairly obvious. But this is not the one reflected in so many higher education policies and practices. And that contributed to the fact that 36 million Americans got college credits, but not an actual degree.

Recognition of this phenomenon – and the problems it can cause for students, employers and colleges – is increasingly recognized. There is even a reference to this in President Biden’s New US Family Plan, which states that “far too many students enter college but do not complete their degree” and notes that “only three in five graduate. a diploma or certificate program within six years. years. ”

A new initiative called ‘Credential As You Go’ aims to change this status quo by making it easier for students and workers to earn recognition for their learning – in increments smaller than the colossal college degree.

Its goals include creating a national accreditation system designed around what the higher education and vocational training journey really looks like for many people: intermittent, non-linear and unpredictable.

The way college programs are currently organized, “a lot of students won’t finish. Can we break the learning down into smaller units and meaningful references along the way? Said Holly Zanville, research professor and co-director of the Skills, Education and Workforce Policy program at George Washington University. “Shouldn’t they get something for their learning?”

She leads the Credential As You Go charge with Nan Travers, director of the Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning at SUNY Empire State College, and Larry Good, president and CEO of the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

So far, with the help of a grant from the Lumina Foundation, they have built a qualifications framework for the additional degrees. They are seeking additional funding to test it with the public education systems in Colorado, North Carolina and New York by asking teams of teachers to use the model to develop recognition of smaller segments of learning.

“What we find is an approach here, an approach here,” says Travers. “The idea of ​​having a framework is that it becomes useful. It’s not a one-off thing. How do we think about it from a systems point of view? “

The leaders of “Credential As You Go” are also convening an advisory board of higher education and workforce leaders, which will meet in mid-May. And they hope to create a digital library of resources relevant to their work.

Moving away from a high-end “degree-centric” model could have big payoffs, Zanville said. She argues that the changes she envisions would be more equitable for all students, especially adult learners, low-income students and people of color who are currently graduating at lower rates than their counterparts. And this approach could help employers understand the hundreds of thousands of credentials workers can now search for and put on their resumes, as well as help colleges serve students more effectively.

It all adds up to an ambitious program. And the highly decentralized systems of higher education and employment in the United States mean that “there will be no one-size-fits-all,” Zanville says. “No matter what we do, it will be layered and complicated.”

But with millions of people left behind by the current accreditation system, organizers say it’s appropriate to think big.

“We see this more as a movement than a project,” says Travers.

To that end, leaders of “Credential As You Go” are planning a national campaign to raise awareness about how and why recognition of learning could change, perhaps by telling the stories of people who could benefit from smaller degrees.

“Everyone has someone in their life who has a college degree and no degree,” says Travers. “My own older brother many years ago completed his last undergraduate course and did not complete. To someone like that, what does it look like? What are they allowed to do and not allowed to do because they don’t have this sheet of paper?

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