Roundtable: Microcredentials: Old Wine, New Bottles or Disruptive Innovation in Credentialing and How Do We Know?

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Picasso (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Roundtable Organizers:  Nan Maxwell, Mathematica Policy Research
Moderators:  Larry A. Good, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce
Speakers:  Robert Sheets, George Washington University, Roy Swift, Workcred, Stephanie Cronen, American Institutes for Research and Nan Maxwell, Mathematica Policy Research

Individuals often pursue degrees because they are the premier credential used in hiring and promotion. They are well-defined, have quality assurance through accreditation, and show documented evidence of links to increased earnings. Their use as the premier credential for employment began to show signs of strain in the 21st century. The globalization of work, greater complexity of skills required of workers, and the roles of science, technology and engineering jobs in the economy produced a gap between the knowledge and skills that the education system imparted and what the workforce needed. By 2014, virtually all (96 percent) of chief academic officers in higher education felt that their students were adequately prepared for work. By contrast, only 11 percent of business leaders perceived credentialed college graduates to be ready for work and only 35 percent of college students felt prepared for a job. Furthermore, a college degree at the start of a career does not address the need to upgrade knowledge and skills throughout one’s life, an artifact of an ever-changing global market for workers. Microcredentials – credentials that are more granular than degrees – are increasingly touted as both alternatives and complements to degrees, albeit what they are and their role in the credentialing system are highly debated. Degrees take years to complete and colleges and universities that offer them are often slow to respond to the market’s changing needs for knowledge and skills. Partly in response to these concerns, colleges and universities have developed and offered certificates—often through programs that do not provide credit toward a degree. Time to complete the certificates is often shorter than for degrees, and programs offering them often target building specific job skills. Similarly, industry associations have developed certifications, a voluntary credential provided when people demonstrate capability, at some level, to perform the tasks for a specific occupation or industry. The proliferation of both certificates and certifications, coupled with their lack of standardization and quality assurance can create confusion about what these shorter credentials indicate. Further, the emergence of digital badges as indicators of specific knowledges, skills, or competencies and the proliferation of badge providers has created additional confusion about the distinction between the different credentials that are more granular than degrees. This roundtable will discuss different dimensions to and perspectives on microcredentials. The first presenter will provide a big-picture view of the field and discuss how the shorter credentials might be of value. The next two presenters will discuss how data limitations limit our ability to assess their potential. The second presenter will take a jaundiced view of microcredentials and discuss the need for standards of emerging microcredentials and the third presenter will describe efforts to build our ability to measure and evaluate them across federal surveys. The final presenter will use results of qualitative research to synthesize conceptual and measurement issues in a way that will generate discussion among panelists and the audience.

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