Credentials

20 Community Colleges Work on Unifying Credentials

A foundation dedicated to increasing the number of Americans who possess degrees, certificates and other kinds of credentials has funded a $1.8 million project to demonstrate that community colleges can adopt and use diverse credentials within their communities. The Lumina Foundation gave the grant to the American Association of Community Colleges, which has divvied up the lion's share of the funding among 20 community colleges in 16 states to participate in a "Right Signals" initiative. Each school received $60,000.

The idea behind Right Signals is to develop and demonstrate a "credentialing model" that recognizes "quality credentials" and sends the "right signals" to employers, students and colleges about the meaning of the credentials. Those might consist of degrees, certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships and digital badges. And they may come from a number of sources: college courses online and in person, the workplace, high school, IT skills "boot camps," military service and community-based and other organizations. Since some community college students often start in non-credited programs and earn certificates or other forms of recognition, the credentialing project will help colleges figure out how to transfer those skills into credit-bearing courses.

The institutions that have signed on already have some credential efforts underway. The grant money they're received is intended to help them develop new kinds of communications for students and employers to clarify credentialing choices and to test the usefulness of a new Lumina tool.

The foundation is running a beta version of a "connecting credentials framework," which attempts to provide a common language for defining the levels of knowledge, skill and ability required for various competencies. The framework offers eight levels of requirements and competencies, from level one, the most fundamental, to level eight, the most advanced.

The colleges are being asked to work with employers — both local and national — to develop integrated learning pathways for students that connect diverse credentials to a "transparent, integrated credentialing system."

"Credentials and acquired skills are valuable to both students and employers," said Walter Bumphus, AACC's president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement. "This work has the potential to provide a national system of recognizable credentials across all sectors and users, making it possible to quickly identify completed courses of study, learned skills, skill mastery, continuing education credits and other types of credentials."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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