Moving from a Degree-Centric Postsecondary System to an Incremental Credentialing System: What Happens to Learners’ Financing Options?

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Making the Case

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Incremental Credentialing

Making the Case

Incremental Credentialing

Credential As You Go calls for a nationally recognized system of incremental credentialing. Such a system would capture and validate all learning, thus enabling individuals to be recognized for what they know and can do via many types of credentials.

What is Incremental Credentialing?

The U.S. needs a fair and inclusive postsecondary system, one that captures and validates all types of valuable learning. Incremental credentialing is one approach toward building such a system – one in which the educational pathways offered by higher education institutions lead to transferable and usable qualifications for employment and further education. In such a system:

  • All learners are credited for their knowledge and abilities.
  • Learning is acknowledged from a variety of sources, not only higher education institutions.
  • The value of credentials is recognized and understood by learners and their families, employers, educational institutions, policymakers, and others.
  • Credentials are customized to learners’ needs and inform education and career planning, navigation, transitions, and advancement.
  • Credentials inform employers’ decisions about hiring and advancement, and they count toward further learning in the postsecondary system.

Although incremental credentialing is not new, it is not inherent to the design of the U.S. learn-and-work ecosystem. Still, experts in the ecosystem are increasingly calling for the growing number of valuable credentials — degree and non-degree — to be organized into a coherent system. This requires redesigning of credentialing systems across states and higher education institutions. Such redesigns are necessary to reduce confusion, increase learning recognition, and integrate what people know and can do.

Incremental credentialing does not aim to disrupt the existing benefits of higher education. Rather, its goal is to help institutions lessen confusion – among learners and employers – about the value of all credentials, including degrees. It strives to enhance learning recognition and enable the integration of learners’ knowledge and skills into qualifications that support employment and further education.

What are Incremental Credentials?

Incremental Credentials capture learning as it is acquired along the learning pathway and formally recognizes and connects that learning to a larger context. Incremental credentials can be non-credit or credit-bearing; undergraduate or graduate level; of any size, from small units of learning up through degrees. The purpose of incremental credentials is to ensure learners are recognized for what they know and can do as they acquire the learning and not leave learners without formal documentation of that learning.

Definitions & Use of Key Terms & Concepts in Incremental Credentialing

Incremental credentials refer to all types of credentials that formally document learning, including certificates, badges, microcredentials, academic degrees, apprenticeships, licenses, and other non-degree credentials. Incremental credentials can be noncredit or credit-bearing; undergraduate and graduate level in higher education or at any level in industry; and any size, from small units of learning through degrees. Incremental credentials can:

  • Be combined to reach a full degree
  • Be developed to fit into parts of a degree
  • Provide specializations for a degree
  • Provide different tracks to a degree
  • Be awarded based on courses already completed
  • Embed credit for prior learning
  • Be focused on employment, particularly for noncredit courses and programs
  • Articulate noncredit to credit learning

Many credential providers issue a variety of credentials upon program completion, ranging from trade schools to post-doctoral institutions.  Regardless of credential type, incremental credentials capture learning acquired along the learning pathway, and formally recognize and connect that learning to a larger context of work and schooling.

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