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

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Technology-Integrated Credential Management

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University of Northern Colorado

Institutional Examples

University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado has integrated many of the technical systems involved in managing credential information. This enables UNC to provide improved services to learners and faculty while also significantly reducing manual data entry tasks.



Credentials Offered

  •  The university offers a range of credentials, including undergraduate degrees, master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates. Licensed professionals can earn professional development certificates of completion. Microcredentials and badges are not currently offered, although the extended campus has expressed interest in providing these offerings. UNC is currently reviewing the possibility of microcredentialing and badging based on current need/demand from academic units. A working group is being formed to explore technology options, policy language, and operational infrastructure.

Technology Stack

  •  External website: The university uses ModernCampus’es Omni CMS to manage its external website, Content related to academic offerings is tied to the catalog system to ensure consistency of approved program and course information, such as course descriptions.
  •  Curriculum management: For curriculum management, the university uses Watermark. Academic program offerings, such as degrees and certificates, are processed through this tool. The academic unit leader completes a form for the offering, which is then reviewed and processed by the registrar’s office. It is then distributed to academic units for content review and approval. Once approved, the registrar integrates the offering into the catalog and SIS, and the registrar’s office issues the credential to the learner once the requirements are met.
  •  Catalog: Watermark is also used for the university’s catalog tool, which integrates with the Watermark curricular management system. This integration ensures that the appropriate information about each offering migrates to the Watermark catalog tool. This increases the catalog team’s capacity to support new offerings, update existing offerings, and respond to emerging needs.
  •  Student Information System (SIS): The SIS used by the university is Ellucian’s Banner, which is integrated with the Watermark catalog so that the content of all offerings in the catalog are populated into the SIS tool. This integration minimizes manual data entry and reduces the risks inherent in managing data across multiple systems.
  •  Learning Management System (LMS): The university uses Canvas as its LMS.
  •  Enrollment and degree audits: For enrollment and degree audits, the university uses DegreeWorks to monitor learners’ completion of credential requirements. In 2022, the university began using the auto-award functionality because of the tight integration of the credential requirements from the curriculum approval process with the catalog and SIS. This integration accurately processes most of the functions related to awarding. Only an estimated 1 to 2 percent of learners require an additional audit to determine if the credential should be issued.
  •  Workflow analytics: To support and analyze credential workflows, the university uses Hyland’s OnBase tool. This tool uses a decision tree approach to build workflow logic, and it can track trends over four or five years. Reports can be used to show comparatively high levels of substitutions or waivers of requirements. This can help the registrar’s office consult with academic units to better articulate program curriculum and train academic advisors.
  •  Advising: For advising, the university uses the EAB Navigate advising platform, which pulls data from SIS, including GPA and program requirements. This platform has a point integration with SIS, which requires review and testing for any update.
  •  Transcripts: UNC uses Parchment for transcripts. This tool has point integration with SIS, which requires review and testing for any update.

Key Tactics

  •  Technical integrations: The university has implemented technical integrations among its various systems and applications that manage credential information. Though these integrations foster consistency and confidence, they necessitate close partnerships and communication across different university units, particularly when updates are made to source systems.
  •  Auto award: The registrar’s office has, over several semesters, extensively tested degree audits and the auto-award functionality of DegreeWorks. This testing identified numerous configurations required to precisely capture all of the requirements for each credential. The thorough testing has built confidence in the integrity of the source systems’ content, prompting the university to further develop a feature that will automatically award learners their credential once they complete all requirements. This enhancement is initially focused on a degree program leading to an occupational license.
  •  Developing staff: To effectively manage back-end configurations and customizations for precise degree audits, the university has invested in developing the technical skills of its staff. These configurations can be quite complex, with multiple scenarios that require intricate configurations.
  •  Procurement: The university is building a collaborative culture to engage a wide range of stakeholders in procurement activities. This institution-wide, holistic view allows campus units to maximize the benefits of the applications they purchase by integrating them with the university’s technical systems.

External Initiatives

  •  Transcript data exchange: In this initiative, the university is exploring the development of electronic data exchanges with other institutions in Colorado.

Lessons Learned

  •  On culture: “Academic leaders are really engaged once they understand how the technology is used and can see how the data it provides can help them make decisions and take actions to improve their programs.”
  •  On insights from data analytics: “Instead of constantly substituting a course for program requirements, it would be more efficient to incorporate that course into the curriculum, which can significantly reduce the number of substitutions submitted each year.”

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