The policy landscape is a crowded, layered, and significant component of the learn-and-work ecosystem. Policy is a broad category that encompasses laws, regulations, procedures, administrative actions, rules, incentives, and voluntary practices of governments and other institutions. Policy decisions are frequently reflected in resource allocations and in accountability processes.

An array of policy bodies may impact the move to an incremental credentialing system in the U.S:

  • Governments – federal and state
  • State Systems of Higher Education, State Coordinating Boards
  • Policy from accrediting organizations
  • Institutional policies including Boards of Regent’s policies and administrative rules
  • Employer program policies
  • Union program policies particularly around apprenticeship programs
  • Community-based program policies such as libraries and local initiatives that support immigrant centers, Goodwill centers and others.

The following focuses on examples of policy that impact incremental credentialing from federal, state, state system of higher education/coordinating boards, and accreditation bodies. Additional information will be added soon on other policy bodies that impact incremental credentialing.

 

Federal

Examples of key federal policy areas related to the learn and work ecosystem include a variety of tools the federal government has to influence the ecosystem, federal financial aid to learners, data collection, and workforce development.

NameDescription

Tools

The federal government — Congress and the agencies — have many tools to influence the field: They can use the bully pulpit, work across the agencies that have strong employer connections, and create funding incentives (e.g., new grant programs) to impact secondary and postsecondary programs.

Financial Aid For Learners

Pell grants are a federal subsidy for students who need it to pay for college. Pell is limited to students with need who have not earned a 1st bachelor's degree or who enroll in certain post-baccalaureate programs through participating institutions. More than 5,000 institutions participate. For years, there has been debate over expanding federal financial aid to cover short-term credential programs. Advocates argue we need more rapid, flexible options that get people ready for in-demand job opportunities quickly. Critics contend many short-term nondegree programs don’t help workers advance beyond static jobs that pay low wages, and this harms especially people of color and from low-income backgrounds.

Data Collection

IPEDS in the U.S. Department of Education (this data collection system began in 1992) annually conducts 12 surveys -- in fall, winter, and spring. All institutions authorized by Title IV for any federal financial assistance program are required to complete these surveys. Data include institutional characteristics and prices, enrollment, financial aid, degrees and certificates conferred, and student persistence and success. IPEDS is considering now whether and when to collect non-degree data – this will be very important policy for incremental credentialing.

Workforce-Target Incentives

In the workforce development area, policy through Career and Technical Education (CTE) and related WIOA and Perkins programs provides funding and programmatic guidance that is particularly important for community and technical colleges. High-quality CTE programs represent an effective way to provide young adults with an educational experience that prepares them for both college and career success, but not all CTE programs provide accessible pathways to a bounty of educational options without dead ends. Apprenticeships — important to incremental credentialing — are guided by law (29 U.S.C. §50) on promotion of labor standards of apprenticeship plus regulations (29 CFR 29) on labor standards for the registration of apprenticeship programs.

Career Advising and Navigation Services

In the reemployment assistance programs and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA),  federal policy can expand access to effective coaching as part of efforts to help workers navigate a new economic landscape. Federal policymakers could increase investments in Wagner-Peyser reemployment assistance programs and WIOA programs to enable states and local workforce boards to hire and train more job coaches at American Job Centers. They could also provide additional funding to states to create a high-quality coaching support system across all organizations that serve impacted workers. Specific actions are being called for by many groups:


  • Hire more coaches
  • Provide coaches training and tools
  • Align performance incentives to across coaching providers to focus on long term career success
  • Ensure that all populations are served

 

State

States set policy for their educational systems, and provide policies which impact their workforce and employers. Examples of state policy include Governor-led statewide financial assistance programs for short-term postsecondary courses and programs; legislation actions to support credentialing strategies; higher education system approaches to adopt micro- credential policies; and remedial education policies.

NameDescription

Louisiana

Governor used federal stimulus dollars to start Reboot Your Careers to provide financial assistance for short-term postsecondary courses.

Virginia

Since 2016, FastForward operates statewide short-term credential program. Impetus: both students and employers needed short-term education options and employers wanted short-term credential programs of value.

Florida

FLORIDA’s 2021 Legislative Session passed HB 1505 to require public postsecondary institutions to award students a nationally recognized digital badge upon completion of gen ed core courses that demonstrate career readiness: 

  • Begins for students entering postsecondary institution fall 2022. 

  • State Board of Education and Board of Governors for State University System jointly appoint faculty committees to identify competencies in general education core that demonstrate career readiness and will result in award of verifiable and interoperable nationally recognized digital credential. 

  • Badges must be awarded/recognized by every FL public postsecondary institution.

Colorado

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

  • Improving Students’ Postsecondary Options (HB22-1366) provide increased funding to make postsecondary options more accessible and affordable.

  • Regional Collaborative Grants (HB22-1350) provide incentive grants to fund talent development for workforce development.

  • Opportunities for Credential Attainment (SB22-192) tasks the Colorado Department of Higher Education to work with state institutions of higher education to develop and implement a process to support institutions to create stackable credential pathways. Legislation includes provisions for public universities to award associate degrees to students who stop out short of a bachelor’s, as well as a task force and study of the public higher education system in Colorado.

Remedial Education

REMEDIAL EDUCATGION: Research shows that a small number of students who took remedial courses earned a certificate or associate degree within six years, and a small number 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, awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature is a bill that would mostly ban remedial math and English classes, which cannot transfer with credit to four-year universities. If the Governor signs the bill, it will affect more than 40 colleges that continue to offer those classes five years after a state law approved in 2017 allows students to bypass the courses. Assembly Bill 1705 addresses concerns that some students are still being funneled into remedial classes. Lawmakers contend that many of the colleges offering remedial courses are violating the spirit of a 2017 law, Assembly Bill 705, which said colleges cannot place students in remedial classes unless they are highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework. The new law builds off the initial one by creating stricter rules detailing the limited scenarios when colleges are allowed to enroll students in remedial classes. Certain groups of students would be exempt from needing to go directly to transfer-level classes, such as some disabled students, students who didn’t graduate from high school and students in some career technical education programs. A college could also enroll a student in a remedial course if the college can prove, based on the student’s high school grades, that the student would be more likely to earn a degree by doing so. Colleges would be expected to enroll the rest of the students in transfer-level classes.

 

State Systems Of Higher Education / Coordinating Boards

State systems of higher education and coordinating boards play a major role in policy. They typically develop and implement postsecondary policy in alignment with federal and state statute; administer academic, financial aid and workforce programs to include the review and approval of academic programs and research centers; commission and conduct research and analysis and complete data reports; set tuition rates, and administer funding formulas and allocate funds. Governors often play a key role in these entities by appointing their CEOs.

NameDescription

Common Roles

Develop/implement policy; administer academic, financial aid and workforce programs to include review/approve programs and research centers; commission and conduct research/analysis and data reports; set tuition rates, administer funding formulas and allocate funds.

Organizational Structures

28 states have single statewide coordinating board, agency or governing board; 20 have single statewide coordinating board or agency; 8 have single statewide governing board; the remaining have one or more major systemwide coordinating or governing board(s) and/or a statewide administrative/service agency.

CEO Appointments

Coordinating/governing boards appoint most postsecondary CEOs

Governor Role

Majority of board members for state system and coordinating/governing boards are appointed -- governors hold this authority for most boards.

Ex-Officio

Boards often include higher education leaders, state K-12 superintendents.

Students

Serve on numerous boards, typically appointed by governor or selected by student government organizations.

Faculty

Serve on some boards, usually selected by professional associations.

New York

The State University of New York (SUNY) adopted a broad micro-credential policy in 2018, following recommendations of Micro-Credentialing Task Force created in 2015: Via collaborative process and endorsed by SUNY Trustees, SUNY has a definition of micro-credentials designed to ensure the rigor and quality of micro-credentials are same as every type of credential SUNY offers. SUNY Micro-Credentials (1) verify, validate and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved; (2) are endorsed by issuing institution; (3) developed via established faculty governance processes; (4) designed to be meaningful and high quality. SUNY has established Taxonomy of Terms around micro-credentials. Today, 400+ micro-credentials across 30+campuses. 

Indiana

Initiated by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, multiple state agencies and all public colleges and universities are working in partnership to further credential transparency working with Credential Engine and its Credential Transparency Descriptor Language (CTDL) as the means and common language to achieve this goal.  Efforts focus on publishing a critical mass of information to the IN Credential Registry, a state-specific subset of national Credential Engine Registry. While much data has already been published (3,000+ programs), and more is continuously added, increasing attention is now directed to integrating the data in the Registry with existing tools that help prospective students and other learners to think through their career goals and find education/training programs to achieve those goals.  IN’s newly licensed statewide Career Explorer software will point to the Registry for information about education/training. Through a partnership with Parchment, IN has a mature Indiana e-Transcript Program, which is universally used at the high school-to-college level (200,000 transcripts sent annually) and is being implemented at the college-to-college level. Ivy Tech Community College has licensed Parchment’s Award Diploma Services product that permits all its graduates to be issued a digital credential, which has a navigation link to the Registry and allows an employer to access all the information about the credential and the College that has been published to the Registry, including the competencies associated with that credential.

 

Accreditation

Accreditation plays an important role in the policy world. Higher education in the U.S. relies on accreditation to ensure quality and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

NameDescription

Types of Accreditation

There are two types of educational accreditation – “institutional” and “programmatic” (also called specialized or professional – ASPA is comprised of this type of accreditor). Institutional accreditation reviews academic and organizational structures of a college or university as a whole, compared to programmatic accreditation that conducts an in-depth assessment of specialized or professional programs at a college, university or independent institution.

Kinds of Accreditors

There are two kinds of institutional accreditors: regional accreditors accredit institutions within a defined geographic region of the U.S., and national accreditors accredit colleges and universities throughout the U.S.  Some regional accreditors also accredit institutions outside of their geographic region. Some specialized accreditors accredit professional schools and postsecondary institutions that are free-standing in their operations and thus the specialized accreditor may also function in the capacity of an “institutional” accrediting agency. In addition to ensuring quality in education, both types of accreditation are important – institutional accreditation can provide students with access to federal student aid, and completion of a program that is accredited by a specialized accreditor is required to become licensed or certified to work in many professions.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education

(example of policy by institutional accreditor):  Commission has the following types of documents: policy statement, accreditation policy, administrative policy, procedures, guidelines, and templates (request forms) which are defined in the policy Review of Standards, Requirements of Affiliation, and Policies. Each policy is accompanied by a set of procedures. The Commission may also develop guidelines to support and guide institutions, peer evaluators, and the Commission in the conduct of peer review and accreditation decision making.  Recently updated documents (summer 2022) are related to incremental credentialing at institutions: 

The Higher Learning Commission

is reviewing trends around the rapidly changing credentialing world.  Its Board is using this information to shape future policy – and other institutional accrediting bodies are looking carefully at trends.  In 2022, the HLC  identified the following trends: 

  • Exponential rise of micro-credentials within and outside of higher education. This includes micro-masters at the graduate level.
  • Increased competition among providers is escalating, threatening the prevailing edge that higher education was assured in the past.
  • Non-degree programs and certificates are on the rise. Many learners are choosing these alternative offerings that may or may not lead toward a degree.
  • Employers often encourage credentials that are short-term and provide immediate returns on investment, and/or can lead to immediate promotion or new jobs.
  • Many consumers seek continuing professional development to learn entirely new skill sets, reflecting end of the “jobs for life, one career path” historical paradigm.
  • Apprenticeships, coupled with a variety of  credentials, are providing pathways to jobs and gaining increasing support from elected officials.
  • With nearly 1 million known credentials offered in the U.S. alone, learners need more coordinated information about the choices available to them.
  • Many institutions are embedding certificates as stackable pathways to the degree.
  • Expanded credentials open the door for new partnerships. Successful outcomes will be achieved through an emphasis on quality assurance, coupled with learner intent. 
  • Financial stress is growing across higher education with decrease in enrollments in certain parts of the country, especially in community colleges.
  • Institutions are building plans and new business models to assure sustainability.
  • There is an increase in both mergers and acquisitions (or affiliations).
  • The closures of institutions is increasing when finances/other pressures exceed ability to continue.
  • State funding is down in some areas, up in others, and in many cases not at the level to make institutions “whole” from pre-recession years.
  • Local funding is under stress due to pandemic and associated costs of creating a safe environment.
  • Tuition-driven institutions will need to expand sources of revenue to strengthen their financial health. At the same time, they face criticism from the public about rising costs of higher education.
  • COVID relief funds assisted most colleges/universities, but there is no sign they will be continued.
  • For some students, the “Gap Year” evolved into “Gone Year.” They did not start or return to college.
  • Tuition discounting is on the rise at some institutions, which threatens sustainability.
  • Increased focus on capital campaigns has been successful at many institutions. However, the funding is not always sustainable.
  • Alternative providers and short-term credential programs are becoming an increasing threat to the financial models of higher education.

 

References

Improving Education and Employment Outcomes

Credential As You Go Video: Transforming the Nation's Credentialing System!

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