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Incremental Credentialing in Graduate Education

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Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU)

Case Studies

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU)


FGCU began to explore incremental credentialing work in 2019, building on the university’s solid foundation of undergraduate and graduate programs of regional importance and strategic emphasis. FGCU faculty and staff formed strategic task force teams to develop a comprehensive framework and model for implementation. Key leaders of these initiatives authored a Step-by-Step Guide for Development a Microcredentialing Program published within New Models of Higher Education. The first and most important step focuses on aligning programming to institutional strategic goals. After recruiting a core team from across the institution, FGCU clearly defined microcredentials, digital badges and three categories of focus for FGCU: Industry-specific, Transferable Skills, and Continuing Education. The first microcredentials were offered in 2020 and aligned with curriculum (categorized as industry-specific micro-credentials). 

Within the Industry-specific model, learners first complete a credit-bearing course or series of courses to master specific student learning outcomes. Learners who meet specified criteria complete an optional microcredential curriculum focused on  the mastery of specific competencies and skills defined alongside employers and community partners. Upon successful completion of a microcredential program, learners earn digital badges (the visual emblem containing metadata that can be shared broadly once earned by a learner). A visual representation of the process by which FGCU creates the microcredential in partnership with employers appears below:

In short, an industry-specific  microcredential at FGCU demonstrates partnerships and engagement with regional employers to determine competencies and skills needed for success and that are aligned with areas of curricular expertise at FGCU. Faculty maintain responsibility for curriculum leading to the award of academic credit. 

Following completion of the course, FGCU brings the employers and our partners into the process to create microcredential content hand-in-hand with community or industry partners. 

A leading example at the graduate level relates to curriculum for the College of Education’s digital badge for Instructional Technology. Initial employer partners included school superintendents and their staff at the five regional school districts. Following completion of a three-credit-hour graduate course, students are given the opportunity to apply the skills and competencies they learned through the curriculum. They create an assessment, project, or presentation meaningful to their place of employment. FGCU faculty and the employers engage jointly  in assessment. Partnering employers gain trust and confidence in the microcredential’s content and assessment because they are involved in the process from concept through execution. In each of the industry-specific microcredential programs, partnering employers guarantee badge-earning students an interview or a chance at promotion. 

As described, participants in the digital badge program complete a graduate-level course offered by the FGCU College of Education. While their primary goal may be the badge, students also earn academic credit for completing the pre-microcredential course. The course stacks into a post-baccalaureate certificate offered in Instructional Technology, allowing these participants to continue on their journey if they choose. The certificate in Instructional Technology consists of six graduate-level courses (18 credit hours) and, in turn, stacks into a graduate degree program, the Master of Arts in Instructional Design & Ed Tech.

A second example, also in the field of education, consists of five noncredit microcredential classes offered as continuing education courses. FGCU faculty have developed postbaccalaureate-level curriculum leading to an endorsement that is required for K-12 teachers in Florida. The university also offers a graduate-level certificate leading to the ESOL endorsement for post-baccalaureate students/teachers. At times, the cost of graduate-level tuition has proven to be a barrier to enrollment. Individuals can enroll in noncredit courses at FGCU, allowing the institution to reduce the cost that would be passed along to the user in order to earn their professional development certificate. Should the goals of the teachers shift, FGCU employs credit for prior learning at the graduate level to consider the award of graduate-level credit to those who have earned the microcredential. Through this process, learners may opt to pursue a post-baccalaureate credit-bearing certificate. As with the instructional technology example above, these courses then apply toward completion of select master’s degree programs.

A third example consists of a series of courses in Nursing and Nurse Education at the post-baccalaureate level. FGCU has combined three graduate-level courses offered as part of a certificate and ultimately a Master’s Degree in Nurse Educator. Upon completion of the three courses, students are eligible to complete the microcredential and develop a teaching portfolio to apply what they have learned. Completion of the microcredential, and thus earning a digital badge, allows participants to immediately serve as a clinical coordinator or adjunct faculty member at FGCU. 

This can stack into a graduate degree at FGCU. The Nurse Educator microcredential (three courses) makes a student eligible for a post-baccalaureate certificate. That then stacks into the 38-credit-hour content associated with the M.S.N. Nurse Educator program. 

FGCU specifically and intentionally aligns new noncredit content offered at the post-baccalaureate level to graduate-level curriculum as a way to award credit for prior learning. Should students want to stack later from a noncredit into a credit-bearing credential, the pathways described are already in place—and clearly defined from day one. 

Links to FGCU policies, for both credit for prior learning and microcredentials and digital badges, as well as the website, provide more details and content related to current and future programming.  

In Development/On the Drawing Board

Faculty in the College of Education are considering a noncredit on-ramp for the instructional technology microcredential which, when launched, was aligned with completion of a graduate-level course prior to participation in the micro-credential and digital badge opportunity. Employers beyond the K-12 sector have expressed interest in exploring microcredential opportunities aligned with instructional design and technology related to their professional development and learning efforts. 

FGCU received a grant from the Department of Labor in 2024 to implement supply chain management curriculum within a successful microcredential model. A new series of noncredit microcredential courses, leading to the award of a digital badge, is under development with five regional employers. The program includes paid internships for participants and guaranteed interviews for those who earn the digital badge. Faculty are further aligning the learning outcomes to credit-bearing courses to enable the award of future credit toward a post-baccalaureate certificate.

Key Successes and Challenges

Key Successes Key Challenges
Employer participation and validation Expansion to multiple employers in the same skills areas
Faculty and employer collaboration Fiscal resources
Expansion of credit for prior learning to include graduate-level experiences Faculty capacity to develop and teach additional credentials
Flexible and nimble response(s) to fill workforce skills gaps Cost barrier for participants
Grant funds to offset cost to participants and employers Future funding commitments from employers

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