Higher Ed Groups Urge Institutions to Use Universal System for Tracking Credentials

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Policymakers and college and university leaders are constantly looking for ways to adjust our higher education system to meet the changing needs of today’s students. A group of higher education organizations, including NASFAA, recently argued that one way to do so is to provide students and employers with more information about the hundreds of thousands of credentials being offered nationwide, and encouraged stakeholders to utilize and expand the growing online database for logging them. 

Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization that built a central web resource to host information about credentials provided across the country, found that 738,428 unique credentials were being offered as of September 2019 — a figure more than twice the size of what the group estimated. A majority of those credentials were offered by higher education institutions (370,020), followed by non-academic organizations (315,067), public and private secondary schools (46,209), and massive open online course (MOOC) providers (7,132).

While the group wrote that it has made great advances in counting and logging credentials, it added that “we need more information about what various credentials entail — from the competencies they aim to convey to their relative value in the marketplace.”   

Credential Engine published a letter last month urging the higher education community to use its online framework — created in conjunction with the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), and EDUCAUSE — for tracking comparable credential descriptions, dubbed the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL). More than a dozen other higher education groups have signed on to support the effort to increase credential transparency with regard to program content, purpose, and outcomes. 

“Recent years have seen explosive growth in the number and types of postsecondary credentials that document learning, with much of this growth coming in the form of non-degree certificates,” the groups wrote in the letter. “Understanding credentials, and the learning they each represent, is of critical importance for college and university leaders in their efforts to support student success and enhance institutional performance.

The groups argued that defining and explaining credentials helps institutions, students, and employers by “communicating the life and career relevancy of credentials to students and employers, aligning program curriculum with education outcomes, integrating student information and technological systems, and connecting credentials from other institutions, businesses, and organizations.”

“A healthy ecosystem of transparent credentials facilitates the documentation, recognition, transferability, and portability of learning across education, work, and community settings for all types of credentials and providers,” they wrote.  

While “the technology is ready” for credential transparency, the groups wrote, it is now time for higher education stakeholders — from board members and academic leadership, to information technology staff and faculty —  to adopt this effort as part of their mission of serving students. For example, the groups wrote that an institution’s board members can consider credential transparency as they perform policy and procedure reviews, and that faculty can collaborate to “articulate and align curricular, instructional, and assessment practices for each credential offered at the institution.”   

Currently, almost 200 colleges have voluntarily input information about their credentials into Credential Engine’s online registry, and have logged more than 6,000 credentials.

“As we look to bolster public confidence in our higher education system and improve student outcomes, embracing credential transparency principles can be an important part of those efforts,” the groups wrote. “... The models and forms of education will surely change, but credential transparency can be an enduring proactive banner for leaders to earn and maintain the public’s trust.”


Publication Date: 11/6/2019

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