Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Incremental Credentialing
Defining Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Diversity encompasses all the ways in which people differ, including age, gender, race, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, education, and much more. It is vital to recognize and value the diversity of every individual and group, including their ideas, perspectives, and values. Focusing solely on diversity is not enough to create a more equitable or inclusive environment. Although diversity is essential, it is just one element of genuine equity and inclusion. Diversity initiatives that only emphasize “how many of these” we have in the room or that merely acknowledge and celebrate diverse cultures cannot transform institutions and or structural systems. Simply recognizing difference does not produce justice or inclusion. To do that, we must transform institutional or structural systems that produce and maintain inequities in our communities.
Equality, Equity, and Inclusion
Credential As You Go’s central commitment is to use incremental credentials to increase postsecondary educational accessibility, attainment, and employment opportunities for all learners—especially those historically underserved by race/ethnicity, gender, age, disability, and income. This goal centers on key principles: Equality and Equity.
We envision an incremental credentialing system in which individual learners are recognized for what they know and can do as they acquire learning from multiple sources. Equality in incremental credentialing acknowledges that everyone, regardless of social identity, should have access to opportunities to earn postsecondary credentials. However, efforts focused only on equality don’t work for, or benefit, everyone.
Figure 1. 2019 Design in Tech Report – “Addressing Imbalance” Illustrations by @lunchbreath
Equity ensures that everyone has access but acknowledges that everyone does not start at the same place in society. We must acknowledge this and adjust for the imbalances. Equity uses targeted strategies to address different needs to get to fair outcomes. Fairness as it relates to equity in incremental credentialing is not about ensuring equal access to a single pathway to success. Rather, it considers the various points in society from which people begin their pursuit of credential attainment and helps build a pathway from there.
The pursuit of justice is the structural and systemic application of equality and equity efforts in an effort to fix imbalances in the system that perpetuate inequities. The trend toward incremental credentialing challenges the degree-centric system. It forces higher education to acknowledge the knowledge and skill of those who may have been historically disadvantaged, and thus less successful. Creating an equity-centered incremental credentialing system is an ongoing process that requires us to identify and overcome the barriers that arise from bias or systemic structures.
To build a more fair and just incremental credentialing system, stakeholders should ensure full-access, authentic representation. They should also share power with the populations they serve, adopting an inclusive approach that avoids tokenism and assimilation. Genuine inclusion means bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into the processes, activities, decisions, and policy making in a way that shares power. Inclusion is the state of belonging that is created when persons of different backgrounds are treated as valued members. This means they are fully integrated into activities and processes and are welcomed as collaborators and decision-makers. Efforts to increase diversity and equity fall flat if they fail to create an inclusive environment—one that allows persons from excluded groups to come as they are, know that they belong, and have an opportunity to grow. Inclusion is an intentional effort to transform the status quo. It begins with the needs, wants, and quality of life of the historically minoritized population, not with those of the historically privileged.
There is no one definition of equity. How an organization defines equity is centered on its the need to understand and address the specific inequities that exist within the populations that organization serves. It is important for your institution or program(s) to openly discuss how you will define equity and how you might strategically focus your equity practices to make sure your incremental credentialing efforts best serve your student population. For example, you may want to focus on racial equity, transgenerational equity, or health equity. Establishing a common language for your organization’s equity and inclusion efforts can help establish intent and focus your efforts.
Questions to consider:
- Does your institution have a DEI policy in place?
- Is your institution’s commitment to equity reflected in data collection?
- Does your institution act on equity-related metrics to address challenges?
- Does your institution/program have metrics associated with equity?
- Has your leadership spoken publicly or written about the commitment to equity?
- What efforts has your institution/program taken to create inclusive environments for marginalized populations?
- How is your institution/program centering the voice of marginalized populations in decision-making?
- Are your equity and inclusion efforts aligned with other stakeholder groups in your institution/program (i.e., staff, learners, workers, employers, vendors, etc.)?