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

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Policy in Incremental Credentialing

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State Government

Policy That Affects Incremental Credentialing

State Government

States set and implement policies that affect their educational systems, workforce, and employers. Examples of state policy include governor-led, statewide financial assistance programs for short-term postsecondary courses and programs; legislation to support credentialing strategies; higher education system approaches regarding microcredentials; and remedial education policies.

Louisiana’s governor used federal stimulus dollars to start Reboot Your Careers to provide financial aid to learners in short-term postsecondary courses.

Since 2016, FastForward has operated a statewide short-term credential program in Virginia. It meets a dual need, as both students and employers want more options for short-term programs that lead to credentials of value.

In 2021, Florida’s legislature passed HB 1505, which requires public postsecondary institutions to award students a nationally recognized digital badge when they complete core courses in general education that demonstrate career readiness. The requirement went into effect for students entering institutions in Fall 2022. The State Board of Education and the Board of Governors for the State University System jointly appoint faculty committees to identify competencies in general education core that demonstrate career readiness and thus qualify students for the badge. The badge – a verifiable, interoperable, and nationally recognized digital credential – must be awarded and recognized by every public postsecondary institution in the state.

Colorado passed multiple bills in 2022 to support credentialing strategies and assist disadvantaged students:

  • Improving Students’ Postsecondary Options (HB22-1366) provides increased funding to make postsecondary options more accessible and affordable. Regional Collaborative Grants (HB22-1350) provide incentive grants to fund talent development and improve the workforce.
  • Opportunities for Credential Attainment (SB22-192) directs the Colorado Department of Higher Education to work with state institutions of higher education to create stackable credential pathways. The legislation enables public universities to award associate degrees to students who stop out short of a bachelor’s. It also created a task force to study the state’s public higher education system.
  • The Colorado Re-Engaged (CORE) Initiative allows four-year institutions to award associate degrees to eligible students who leave a baccalaureate program after earning at least 70 credit hours. By awarding associate degrees for academic credits already completed, Colorado’s four-year institutions can open new career opportunities for individuals, strengthen the state’s workforce and economy, and create pathways for these learners to re-engage in higher education. Associate degrees can provide multiple, measurable benefits. For example:
    • On average, individuals with an associate degree have higher annual earnings, lower rates of unemployment, and access to more high-quality employment opportunities than those with only a high school diploma.
    • In addition to increasing income potential and employment opportunities for individual degree recipients, the CORE Initiative can improve economic prospects in their communities. By increasing the number of Coloradoans with an academic credential, CORE can also expand the state’s workforce and support the continued economic recovery of the business community.
    • In awarding an earned associate degree, the granting institution gains a tool to promote re-engagement, re-enrollment, and completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  • In January 2023, the governor’s office approved a letter of support for the CORE Initiative. This letter demonstrates support for colleges and universities that are participating in the CORE program and awarding earned associate degrees to qualified students. This letter is expected to be helpful to institutions as they seek Higher Learning Commission accreditation.

In June 2023, the Texas Legislature unanimously passed a law that changes state funding for community colleges; followed by signing of House Bill 8 by Gov. Greg Abbott. The law resulted from recommendations from the Texas Commission on Community College Finance that the legislature should distribute the lion’s share of state funding to schools based on measurable outcomes that address workforce needs. The new funding mechanism will:

  • Reward colleges for issuing “credentials of value” (e.g., badges, certificates, degrees), especially related to high demand occupations
  • Reward colleges for students that earn at least 15 credit hours to transfer to a four-year institution.
  • Provide over $75 million in financial aid for low-income high school students to take dual-credit courses and earn credit toward a college degree.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is charged with implementing these changes.

Remedial Education – Research shows that few students who took remedial or developmental courses earned a certificate or associate degree within six years, and even fewer transferred to a four-year university. Research has also shown that Black and Latino students enroll at disproportionately high rates in remedial classes. Some states have passed legislation guiding remedial education. In California, Assembly Bill 1705 would mostly ban remedial math and English classes, which cannot transfer with credit to four-year universities. Bill 1705 addresses concerns that some students are still being funneled into remedial classes despite a 2017 law designed to limit that practice. The earlier law, Assembly Bill 705, prohibited colleges from placing students in remedial classes unless those students are highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework. The new law would establish stricter rules detailing the limited scenarios in which colleges can enroll students in remedial classes.

The political climate for DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) has contributed to calls for major changes in DEI policy. At least two dozen bills on DEI were introduced in 15 states in 2023—all seeking to undo DEI efforts at higher education institutions.  In some states, higher education institutions are rolling back their DEI programs in anticipation of policy changes, or moving their DEI operations into Student Success units. The terms, DEI, are also being reconsidered in light of policy changes.

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