Alternative Credentialing Q&A with Clearinghouse CEO Rick Torres
National Student Clearinghouse CEO Rick Torres shares his insight on alternative credentialing in a recent Inside Higher Education report
As today’s job market becomes more technologically driven – and more competitive – employers are looking for candidates with very specific skill sets. Because technology changes so fast, there is also a sense among some that a college degree, while valuable, may not be proof of a specific, granular skill set.
To substantiate their claims to certain skills, some candidates seek out professional credentials. Over the past few years, credentials have gotten more and more specific, giving rise to “micro-credentialing” and “badging” for more and more specific skills.
Rick Torres, CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse, weighs in on a recent Inside Higher Education report, “On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and Work.”
Q: How are learning pathways changing in response to the growth of micro-credentialing?
Technological evolution is allowing us to do a few things that were very difficult to do even a decade ago. We can begin to actually record, in a digital fashion, learning wherever it is happening. Workplaces both large and small are beginning to assign credentials or badges to employees who develop their skill sets in particular areas.
Some academic institutions are now badging learning along the way as well. They break a degree pathway down into smaller components and provide learners with digital badges that certify progress in a particular area. This credentialing has a longer history in the non-digital space. For example, a learner could go to a community college or a four-year school for continuing technical education on a not-for-credit basis. After five or six classes, the learner is issued a skills credential and is ready to enter the workforce. So there have always been these alternative education sources, but now digitalization is allowing it to become more formalized.
Q: What are the three most important aspects of micro-credentialing that are still to be determined as it continues to evolve in the future?
The future of all of micro-credentialing is going to be linked to whether the learner, the academic institutions, and the workforce can actually consume these credentials and make use out of them. They need to have a broad level of consumability.
Secondly, the transferability, or portability, of digital credentials or digital badges is important. Micro-credentials should be transferrable not only from academic institution to workforce, but between academic institutions as well. Can you go from school A to school B and transfer a badge or a micro badge in the academic sense of the word? And what is the relative transferability and consumability by the work force of the claimed badges or artifacts that are being presented by the learner?
Thirdly, we need to think about the swirl back and forth between workforce and academic, where a learner goes back to the workforce, then back to the academic, then back to the workforce. This creates the opportunity for just-in-time learning.
Q: How is the National Student Clearinghouse responding to alternative credentialing?
From the National Student Clearinghouse standpoint, our role has always been to capture learning, and allow the learner and allow the institution to represent that learning. Whether it is through new digital forms or existing digital media from institutions that provide the learning, the idea is to present the most holistic view of what is actually happening in the education to workforce continuum across the country. That is what we are continuously looking to inform in the most complete manner possible.
Considering the cost of education, if these micro-credentials and micro-masters and micro-artifacts can get established workforce value, then there can be a real possibility that there is an alternative pathway to where a learner needs and wants to go in the workforce – without having to go through the traditional pathway any more.
That means that if artifacts are going to be issued, we want to be able to provide a way to have the learner show those artifacts. The relative consumability of those artifacts are going to be determined by the designees. With the evolution of technology now, what we should be able to do is enable learners to easily represent the learning that they have accomplished by the source of learning. It should be up to the recipient of that information to make the determination as to whether the learning is of value or not.
From the National Student Clearinghouse standpoint, our role has always been to capture learning, and allow the learner and allow the institution to represent that learning.