- As educators race to meet workplace demand for new skills, the number of unique credentials including traditional degrees, certificates and other programs that are offered in the U.S. has grown to about 650,000, said Scott Cheney, executive director of Credential Engine, a nonprofit that aims to make credentials more transparent, during a panel on the topic held Monday in Washington, D.C. and hosted by Third Way, a left-leaning think tank.
- Not all credentials are created equal, however, and some learners have been diving into programs without realizing local employers might not accept a particular credential, said panelist Daniel Bustillo, director of the Healthcare Career Advancement Program.
- Prospective students navigating the credential marketplace often lack effective ways of teasing out which programs will lead to better employment outcomes, Cheney said. To help students make better choices, programs should be transparent with outcomes data, and colleges should partner with nontraditional programs by offering students credit for their certificates or badges, panelists suggested.
Certificates, badges and other short-term credentials can be a way for learners to upskill faster than they would be able to with a traditional degree program. But a better way is needed for employers and students to determine if a program prepares participants for the workforce, the panelists said.
"There are a lot of organizations out there that are just cranking out new credentials all the time, throwing darts at the board, hoping that [they're] hitting something that is actually going to have value," Cheney said.
Credential Engine, which maintains a database of credentials offered in the U.S., has been working to make this process easier by pushing more programs to publish their student outcomes data online. So far, about 200 organizations have done so, Cheney said, adding that some have been wary of sharing their data.
Other companies have sprung up to help students make sense of and use their credentials. Credly, for example, provides a platform for developing and issuing digital credentials. The company also recently partnered with the nonprofit Education Design Lab to authorize certain colleges to award students badges for soft skills such as creative problem solving and empathy.
As the marketplace floods with credentials for hard and soft skills alike, colleges may be tasked with bundling programs into packages that are accepted by employers, said Kemi Jona, associate dean for undergraduate programs at Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies. Such stackable certifications have become more popular and are often driven by employers' needs.
They also may increasingly partner with programs to roll credentials or badges into credits required to complete traditional degree programs. For example, Northeastern offers credit to those who have received in-house digital badges from IBM or who have completed a Google IT Support Professional certificate.
These partnerships can help learners use credentials as a bridge to accessing traditional degree programs if they don't initially have the means or time to complete a two- or four-year program, said Bridgette Gray, the executive vice president of the national program at Per Scholas, a nonprofit that provides free IT training.
"Let's create a long-term career pathway versus thinking about this one process that they need to go through," Gray said.