Research

Fragmentation Is Holding up Usefulness of Credentials

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Adoption of credentialing in the workforce continues to be a challenge because the system is so fragmented, according to a new report from Third Way. The think tank has identified two big hurdles: First, the hiring managers who need to review the credentials don't always get the right information to do valid comparisons, since every credential seems unique. And second, students don't own enough of their data to be able to hand off complete records. As a result of these obstacles, people can't share their credentials with prospective employers, employers may not trust the validity of the credentials and there's no way to connect the various streams of credentials acquired throughout life for pursuing "further education or moving up the career ladder," as "Hurdles to Connected Credentials" explained.

The report, written by Policy Advisor Kelsey Berkowitz, suggested that without a "DNA" or "standard language" to describe any particular credential, there's no way to establish exactly what competencies a credential-holder could be expected to have or what jobs a worker could be expected to do.

Even where organizations are developing "competency frameworks" to delineate the skills a given occupation requires, those efforts can compound the confusion, the report noted. After all, wrote Berkowitz, "There are over 1,000 competency frameworks," including those created for specific industries, each of which can be thought of as its own language.

As an example of early work underway, the report referenced the T3 Innovation Network, a joint project of Lumina Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "The goal is to produce a common way of describing credential data so it can be easily shared, understood and compared throughout the credentialing ecosystem," Berkowitz wrote. Currently, those efforts are being piloted.

It doesn't help, she added, that "credentials are stuck in the era of fax machines," and more specifically the era of paper. When somebody finishes a program of study, he or she typically "receives a paper credential instead of a digital one that could be easily shared online" and that could provide "richer information," including links to e-portfolios to show mastery of learning.

While digital badges do exist, these are inadequate because they don’t offer evidence of competency in the same way other types of credential attainment — such as degrees — do.

Here too there are "nascent efforts" to develop a digital infrastructure where credentials could be stored, shared and displayed. Berkowitz cited the work being done by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals, with support from Lumina Foundation. These organizations are developing a "comprehensive learner record," a digital replacement for the traditional transcript. There's also a consortium of universities that are working on a "digital envelope" that could be shared across institutions and that could become a standard "for issuing, storing, displaying and verifying credentials."

The "lack of a 21st century credentialing infrastructure" is preventing people from sharing a "comprehensive picture of their learning experiences with employers and training institutions," Berkowitz concluded. While this report offered no solutions that could be implemented at a federal or state level, a future paper will, she said.

The current report is openly available on the Third Way website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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