Your 2018 Digital Strategy – Things To Consider

If you’re like most people, you probably can’t remember what the beginning of 2017 was like. So much happened last year, with 2018 already upon us bringing a “Bomb Cyclone” across the nation. As schools and businesses put the final touches on their digital strategies for the next 12 months, let’s take some time to look at how credentials can come into play. You may not realize it just yet, but digital credentials can be a driving force in achieving your goals this year:

Sending and receiving: How digital credentials play into a modern strategy

Think about how much of our lives are tied to the internet these days – you can order groceries, pay bills, send money to friends and find the nearest car wash all from your smartphone. In school settings, students are taking courses and earning degrees completely online, both at the high school and college levels. Businesses no longer post “Help wanted” ads in newspapers; now, they list open positions on job websites and accept resumes through digital applicant tracking systems. 

Yet for all this innovation, one thing that could be easily digitized has remained stubbornly in the paper past: credentials. Much to learners’ chagrin, many administrative offices don’t support digital credentials. This means, for example, students who want to access their high school diplomas online are unable to do so. Instead, they must complete the cumbersome, time-consuming process of getting their paper records. Similarly, college students are unable to order transcripts online and send them instantly to other schools or potential employers. The time delay associated with paper record delivery could be the difference between a college graduate getting the job of his or her dreams or being underemployed.

In many ways, digital credentials can improve learners’ success. Students can immediately access and send verified PDF copies of their transcripts, diplomas and other credentials to a large network of destinations, reducing the uncertainty and eliminating delivery delay.

What’s more, digital credentials are good for schools and businesses. They help high schools, colleges and universities expand their digital marketing reach, allowing students to share their successes on social media and putting the institutions in front of countless eyes. Meanwhile, they make businesses more competitive by making it easy for applicants to send proof of their education. With 40 percent of companies fighting against a shortage of talent, according to research from Manpower Group, businesses need every trick in the book to attract the most qualified candidates.

No matter what field you work in – education, recruiting, marketing or other – it’s important to understand that digital credentials can play a huge role in shaping 2018.

Want to learn how digital credentials make your job easier? Contact Parchment today.

 

Online Learning 20 Years Later: Five Observations

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Educom NLII Instructional Management Systems (IMS) retreat in March 1997 at Sonoma State University, and the founding of Blackboard LLC in June 1997, Blackboard co-founder and Parchment CEO Matthew Pittinsky shares five observations about the state of eLearning 20 years later.  In an earlier blog (Part 1), Matthew shared lessons learned founding and scaling a global education technology platform.

When most (normal) people think of Autumn, their minds turn to Halloween and Thanksgiving.  For those of us in higher education technology, however, Autumn means a third annual event is upon us … the annual higher education technology meeting of EDUCAUSE!  

This year’s meeting in Philadelphia is a special one, marking the 20th anniversary of one of the most impactful initiatives ever launched by a higher education association.  Originally dubbed the Instructional Management Systems (IMS) project, it was the brainchild of visionary leaders Carol Twigg, Bill Graves, and Carl Berger (to name a few) and led by Carol Twigg, Mark Resmer and Steve Griffin.

Their goal?  To ensure that a marketplace of learning technologies — learning management systems (LMSs) first and foremost — would emerge to support the delivery of high-quality learning in a networked age.  More precisely, a marketplace of standards-based learning technologies.  At a time when academic computing played second fiddle to administrative computing, and just three years after the launch of Netscape, the idea that higher education needed to proactively catalyze a learning technology market, while simultaneously ensuring openness and interoperability, was a big and prescient one.  

I’ll keep the history brief.  While IMS was organized under Educom’s National Learning Infrastructure Initiative a year earlier, it was March 1997 when the project fully kicked-off with a month-long convening.  Held on the campus of Sonoma State University, participants from UNC Chapel Hill, Michigan, Maricopa Community College, Penn State, Cal State, Buena Vista University and others, joined with representatives from Apple, IBM, Sun, Thomson Learning and KPMG Consulting (my employer and ticket into the room), to identify the key enabling standards required to support interoperability and reduce friction in the adoption of learning technologies by faculty and institutions. In short, our work was to begin the design of an open architecture for online learning; one that could transform the Internet into a more powerful environment for teaching and learning.

It’s now 20 years later and safe to say the marketplace imagined in 1997 has by and large developed, centered around the widespread adoption of the LMS.  IMS was critical to this development. I will leave it to others who work every day with tools and content to judge the degree to which the goal of openness and interoperability has been realized.  The IMS project of 1997 has evolved into the IMS Global Learning Consortium, home to such critical standards as LTI and Common Cartridge.

Anniversaries are an opportunity to reflect on time gone by and I’ve been thinking about the state of online learning 20 years later.  In various talks on the topic I’ve made five observations that have garnered particularly strong reactions – heated disagreement, as much as support.  Here they are:

  1. The LMS experience of 2017 is surprisingly similar to 1997.  I left Blackboard in 2007 to finish my doctoral studies and take a tenure-track position in the sociology program at Arizona State University.  I rejoined the edtech market with Parchment in 2011.  Perhaps four years falls short of “Rip Van Winkle” status, but I was surprised to walk the 2011 EDUCAUSE exhibit hall and see how much the major LMS systems looked like each other, and more importantly, looked like the WebCT, Blackboard CourseInfo and Web Course in a Box systems of old.  When you consider the major technology shifts that have occurred since 1997 – social, mobile, Big Data, SaaS, etc. – it’s remarkable that a course web site today is not so different as one of yesteryear.  Similarly, the continued bright line between “front office” and “back office” – between LMS and SIS – is as bright as ever; noteworthy and a barrier to innovation.
  1. We need to flip 80-20 to 20-80.  The key to a fundamentally different and more effective online learning environment lies in the degree to which platforms support pedagogical and discipline differentiation in those learning environments.  I always thought of Blackboard as an operating system for education.  Yes, that’s a presumptive and ambitious thought from a business perspective.  But for me, the point was that Blackboard’s value lay in the apps you ran on it, not the system itself.  

LMSs provide the 20% of tools that 80% of learning environments need: gradebook, discussion tools, content management, etc.  Impactful learning environments are about the 80% of tools that only 20% of learning environments may need because they are specific to that instructional approach and subject.  It’s no surprise that the platforms most different from 20 years ago – Minerva, MOOCs, 2U – have all developed in the context of a specific set of programs and with a specific pedagogy.  

  1. The learning technology marketplace remains a fresh palate.  Whenever I am pitched by an edtech entrepreneur or learn about a new company, I use a simple matrix to help classify their product.  The matrix is pretty high level, but I think it serves its purpose of illustrating how fresh the palate is for edtech innovation.  

The rows of the matrix are the four major challenges that characterize the historical development of education in the United States: access, quality, efficiency, equity.  As a country and industry, each of these challenges has risen and fallen in relative priority.  They are interrelated to be sure.  The columns of the matrix are the four major technologies that are being applied to those challenges: networks, interactive media, data, mobile.  Some definitions: By “interactive media” I mean the spectrum of learning resources from simulations to augmented reality.  We can teach American history by being at the Stonewall Inn in New York City during a seminal moment in the gay rights movement.  We can understand the electoral college by simulating marginal shifts in votes by states and see how they change who sits in the White House.  By “data” I mean Big Data, but more to the point, the application of Big Data through AI and algorithms, for example in the effort to personalize learning and identify retention risk.  When the four big challenges intersect with these four core technologies, the exponential nature of the opportunity space emerges.  This is especially true when you consider that the 16 cells of the matrix exist in multiple dimensions, taking on different qualities in the contexts of community college, liberal arts college, the big research university, the HBCU and so on.

Networks Interactive Media Data Mobile
Access
Quality
Effecienct
Equity

 

  1. The measuring stick of “as good” remains a tricky one.  I struggle with this topic; hence it is the longest.  Carol Twigg has long argued that to measure online learning against the yardstick of classroom-based instruction is, well, dumb (my word).  First, it reifies classroom-based instruction in a way that ignores the poor learning outcomes and the isolation that exist in too many lecture halls across America. Second, it constrains the imagination of online learning, which should be about increasing quality and lowering costs to achieve breakthrough outcomes.  As much as I admire Carol, I am not fully there.  

The original problem Blackboard set out to solve was to augment a traditional classroom-based course with an additional context for learning: the course web site.  Discussions and reflections, formative assessments, interactive learning resources, and yes, administrative activities, could all be integrated and enhanced through the LMS.  While  “hybrid” courses and “flipped” classrooms are a new norm, for many institutions fully online distance learning has overtaken augmentation as their primary strategic focus.  

In that context I think it makes sense to ask whether online learning is as good as traditional classroom-centered and campus-based learning.  Surveys of employers suggest they don’t believe so, perceiving online degrees lower in terms of quality. Of course it’s foolish to judge all subjects, degree programs, education providers and learners with a single pronouncement. It’s foolish to make the statement that online education is not as good when there are examples of programs or providers that no doubt are better.

That said, I think we are way too uncritical in our acceptance of online education as a delivery method.  We should ask the question, Are online learning environments as good as high impact brick-and-mortar environments?  For me the answer is usually no, with only a few exceptions. I say this for three interrelated reasons.  First, I believe that nearly all instruction delivered by a college or university should embed in its design the principles of a liberal arts education.  As Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University and closing keynote at our latest Parchment Summit, argues, a liberal arts education is at its core about producing leaders and change agents with the capacity for innovation, judgement and productive risk taking. Second, I believe that education is fundamentally a social process rooted in experience:  instructor-to-student, student-to-student, in the context of instructor-led activities and outside of them.  Few online learning environments are social at their core, and the answer is not borrowing from the design principles of Facebook!  Third, I believe in the unofficial curriculum of a campus-based undergraduate education (and many graduate programs as well).  Learning is what happens in the quad, library, residence halls, student groups, lectures, faculty office hours, research projects … the list goes on.  Most online programs reflect a fraction of that richness.  Student life is higher education’s secret sauce.

Usually these observations generate three objections.  The first two are that there are institutions that prove me wrong, and there are instructional programs for which my objections are not as relevant.  Both are true.  The third objection is that I fail to acknowledge the barriers to access that are being broken down with online.  The typical learner is not 18-21 and living on campus. Students can earn degrees who might not otherwise.  And online can be delivered at a cost that can expand attainment.  

Here I stand my ground.  I believe that the goal of broad attainment of higher education is about more than just individual economic mobility.  I believe that the liberal arts principles and unofficial curriculum that characterize brick-and-mortar higher education (done well) are critical to both economic mobility and the broader purposes of a degree.  I also believe that historically our education system has proven to be remarkably good at sorting students by race and class in ways that perpetuate inequality.  We must be on guard and bring a critical eye.  There is a real risk that the sorting of who learns through online education and who learns on campus will become the 21st century postsecondary equivalent of the 20th century practice of tracking by secondary schools, which was not a happy story.

  1. Change happens incrementally. Most of us tend to speak of change happening in increments of five years and ten years.  Five years is something imminent, and ten years is something that will happen sooner rather than later.  My rule of thumb for change in the education is market is to take a forecast and triple it: near-term is 15 years, while sooner rather than later is more like 30. Take for example the “flipped classroom,” in which in-class time is repurposed for more instructor-student interaction, while lectures are presented online.  The idea of shifting from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” was coined in 1993, but it wasn’t until roughly 2007 when the practice gained broad attention. A second example is the MOOC. Seventeen years ago (2003), Arthur Levine, then president of Teachers College, Columbia University wrote in a book I edited, The Wired Tower, that faculty members will become free agents and go online to reach a large global audience.  What he described as a near-term trend took just nine years before Coursera was founded.

My point is that big change does happen in higher education. It just takes longer and it happens incrementally. That is, A leads to B, B to C and C to D. Rarely does A lead directly to D. This “radical incrementalist” model is the secret to technology-driven innovation in the academic world.

There you have it. Twenty years have gone by. We must be humble and recognize the true state of what online education can do pedagogically. There’s a temptation to believe the medium can do more than it can, especially with the siren song of disruption calling out to do more, faster.  We have experience now upon which to draw. Companies like Blackboard are reimagining the LMS with the benefit of rich data about how people teach and learn.

The vision of IMS was interoperable tools and content, accessible by faculty to support their instruction and student learning.  It is a vision as urgent and important today as in 1997.  See you at the Parchment booth at Educause!

The Comprehensive Student Record: What to Include, and Why

A new generation of digital credentials has made it possible to not only track grades and GPA but also show the work behind the scores and highlight extracurricular activities that reveal skills never before tracked on a transcript. Educators from around the country are in discussions regarding how to make the best use of the available technology, settling on an idea that’s come to be known as the Comprehensive Student Record (CSR) — an all-inclusive account of in-school performance, delivered in a way that’s directly relatable to recruiters searching for skilled hires.

Bridging an Information Gap

We recently polled 1,015 students of varying education levels and found the majority believe adding advanced digital features to their transcripts and diplomas would be either “extremely useful” or “very useful” for finding a job and starting a career.

Some features rated higher than others:

  • 76% of all respondents believe the ability to transfer verified credentials to an employer or other universities in a single package would be very or extremely useful
  • 71% want competency-based credentials that certify skills learned.
  • 69% want shareable credentials for posting to professional networks such as LinkedIn.
  • 67% want “clickable” credentials that reveal details about their academic experiences.
  • 63% want to be able to view credentials on a mobile device.

Our new survey backs up what we’ve heard from students in the past. In 2015, 60% of graduates surveyed wanted to share their diploma on social media sites to improve marketability (37%), share school pride (20%) or for verification of their achievements (18%). Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said digital credentials boost their marketability to potential employers.

The findings come as educators, administrators, registrars, counselors, and others advocate ways to better arm students entering the workforce. We’ve yet to see a consensus, but there’s already broad agreement regarding the need for credentials that are digital, shareable, and reflect a broad range of skills learned.

Pressure to Improve

Kevin Krueger is one of the leading voices arguing for a credential overhaul in the form of the CSR, and with good reason. He’s president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), which is teaming with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to develop models for the CSR in a project funded by the Lumina Foundation. Finding the right mix of academic and out-of-the classroom experience to reflect on a common CSR is of central concern to Krueger.

“Five years ago, university students would go through four years of school and then create a resume their senior year. What we know now is that’s not good enough; the career planning process should start at admissions,” Krueger said in an interview at Parchment’s second annual Summit on Innovating Academic Credentials, held in March in Washington, DC.

Think of it as a call to action to help overburdened students and their parents. Data from the College Board put increases in tuition and fees at around 3% annually in recent years. Trouble is, graduates are entering a job market in which starting salaries are expected to rise by an average of just 4% — and that’s the best result in a decade, according to a recent survey from Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Giving grads credit for real-life skills earned as well as academic performance could prove crucial in their efforts to land better-paying jobs upon matriculation.

The ABCs of the CSR

What should the CSR include? Survey respondents singled out a comprehensive and accurate reflection of academic performance in a digital credential as their top priority, with 78% deeming it either “extremely useful” or “very useful.” Detailed descriptions of academic undertakings ranked next with 69% ranking it “extremely useful” or “very useful” while 66% want a CSR that discusses completed internships and other forms of student employment. No other features scored above 60% of the field. The message? Grads want classroom achievement to count when it comes to competing in the marketplace.

“Organize [college experience and achievement] in such a way that it would allow an employer to sort or search on a set of criteria or competencies, in the same way, you can on LinkedIn, and you have a companion document to a resume that demonstrates the learning behind the degree,” NASPA’s Krueger says, speaking to the need.

Demonstrating value in the form a Comprehensive Student Record that documents not only grades but also challenges overcome, learning milestones achieved, interpersonal strengths observed, and verifiable skills earned could alter the equation and better prepare grads to fight for space in a competitive job market.

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Watch the Webinar:
The Comprehensive Student Records Project Overview and Updates from UMUC and UCO.

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3 Trends Driving Credential Innovation: What We Learned at the 2nd Annual Parchment Summit

Each year at Parchment we bring together educators and employers to discuss the future of academic credentials, hiring, lifelong learning and the careers of tomorrow. The second annual Parchment Summit on Innovating Academic Credentials was held in Washington D.C. March 1.

“Instead of the look of a traditional academic conference in which registrars are with other registrars or career services staff are with other career services staff, we like to bring together all the different parts of a university involved with credential innovation so they can see some of the broader themes and learn from each other,” says Matthew Pittinsky, PhD., CEO of Parchment.

Connecting the links in the credential value chain

The 2017 program included keynote speeches from bestselling education author and Washington Post contributor Jeff Selingo and Wesleyan University president Michael Roth, six breakout discussions, and two “fireside chats” in which panels of experts debated the future of university credentials and what it means now that employers are starting to use Big Data to mine “people analytics” for making hiring decisions. Three trends emerged from these discussions.

  1. From Education to Career Pathways

“Five years ago, university students would go through four years of school and then create a resume their senior year,” says Kevin Krueger, President of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). “What we know now is that’s not good enough; the career planning process should start at admissions.”

Rising levels of student debt and a global workforce have increased pressure on universities to connect the dots between the entirety of the college experience and earned skills that can translate in the workplace. Forward-thinking schools such as Princeton are responding by creating programs for helping students envision and create a pathway from the classroom to a career.

“We’re shifting toward helping students develop a personalized exploration of meaning and purpose in their engagement with the world,” says Pulin Sanghvi, Executive Director of Career Services at Princeton. To bring this approach to life, he’s created and teaches a course called Career and Life Vision, which he describes as a “hypothesis-driven model of self-exploration” to help students collect the skills needed to achieve what they want from life.

  1. Communicating Soft Skills More Important than GPA

Selingo, whose new book is titled There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, says the biggest opportunity in credential innovation is in figuring out ways to properly assess and credential for employers all the learning students do when they aren’t at a desk — because a majority of the work they’ll do on the job will occur on the move, in meetings, or at events. Anywhere but at a desk.

“The world of work now is a mashup of activities, there isn’t a scheduled day,” Selingo says. “it’s a lot of negotiation, it’s a lot of teamwork, it’s a lot of moving from one activity to another activity. And that’s why I think, in many ways, there’s a lot more similarity between preschool and the world of work than the traditional notion of college and the world of work.”

To bridge the gap, NASPA is teaming up with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to create what’s known as a Comprehensive Student Record for capturing and assessing learning outcomes, observed competencies, and experiences outside the classroom. What’s the difference between that and a resume? Krueger says it comes down to authentication. Students can’t merely claim competencies; they have to be earned and authenticated by a university.

“That way, skills and competencies are provable,” Krueger says. “Organize [the data] in such a way that would allow an employer to sort or search on a set of criteria or competencies, in the same way you can on LinkedIn, and you’ve a companion document that demonstrates the learning behind the degree.”

  1. Employers will demand more and better assessments from universities

Employers have long struggled to quantify classroom work when hiring. In recent years, some have turned to multi-stage interviews conducted over the course of weeks or months to better get to know recent graduates before making an offer. Sanghvi says that’s problematic.

“Hiring managers don’t have the ability to invest in 100 coffees with every candidate that comes their way,” he says. Their answer? Put more pressure on universities to better connect the dots between curriculum and on-campus experience with marketable on-the-job skills. Accelerated adoption of the Comprehensive Student Record or something like it could help to solve the problem.

“I think a lot of this is going to be driven by employers when they say to universities: we’re not going to hire your students anymore because they don’t come to us with the underlying skills we need,” Selingo says.

Stay involved in the discussion

As with all discussions on the future of education, the discussion about how to innovate academic credentials will continue online before the next Parchment Summit in 2018. Follow along on Twitter and Facebook and bookmark our resource page to stay connected and engage in Summit conversations on Twitter using #ParchmentSummit.

“What drives innovation is that we expect credentials to do more in today’s knowledge economy than we did even 50 years ago,” Pittinsky says. “We expect them to function for the student in the labor market. We expect them to be portable, collectible, shareable, stackable and that’s just today. We’re always going to expect more of credentials.”

Empowering the Employer: Parchment Summit 2017

With March here, many people start thinking about spring, St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness. But for those of us in the credentialing world, we worked hard to make sure March means one thing: The Parchment Summit on Innovating Academic Credentials.

This year’s event, held Wednesday, March 1st in Washington DC, focused on bridging the gap between employers and credentialing institutions. We were joined by journalists, leaders in higher education and employers like JetBlue Airways with the common thread amongst the group being a shared interest in ensuring we have a qualified, engaged workforce. In year two of the Parchment Summit, we concentrated on bringing forth conversations related to which employers collect academic credentials and why, seeking to further open up the lines of communication between higher education and the workforce.

“Right now we’re in an awkward spot where there appears to be a mismatch between what employers say they want and what they believe colleges and universities are producing,” said Ted Mitchell, former Under Secretary of Education for the Obama Administration, in a recent EdSurge story

In partnership with Connecting Credentials, the 2017 Parchment Summit featured keynote speakers, fireside chats and breakout sessions.

“As our students pursue a broader and more diverse range of career paths than anytime in the past, the growth of new, more flexible credentials will be critical to their ability to shape and tell their unique stories,” said Pulin Sanghvi, Executive Director, Office of Career Services, Princeton University. “I found the Parchment Summit to be thought-provoking in bringing together leading-edge thinkers on how this important space is evolving, and what the future will look like. In the course of our day together, we covered a broad range of topics related to credential innovation, new models of recruiting, and the enduring value of the liberal arts. I found myself on a steep learning curve the entire day, and already have a large number of ideas to bring back to Princeton.”

Videos from the 2017 Parchment Summit will be available on ParchmentSummit.com in April. In the meantime, follow us on social media via @parchment and @parchmentsummit and search for the 2017 Summit conversations using #parchmentsummit. Parchment and many attendees live tweeted sessions this year so you can quickly catch up on the conversations as we work to make the videos available.

Learn more about this year’s program here.

Wake-Up Call: The Non-Traditional Students Aren’t the Ones You Think

History and common wisdom says that college students tend to come from a suburban upbringing, and head straight to university after high school. The data tells a very different story. A majority of today’s students—the traditional students—would have been considered non-traditional only a few years ago. They’re taking gap years, starting businesses and families, and generally getting a highly tailored post-secondary education when they need it.

Demographics are shifting in many ways. For example, according to the Lumina Foundation, enrollment among African Americans rose 72 percent from the mid-1990s through 2012, while Hispanic enrollment tripled over the same period. Even more telling; 56 percent of students surveyed work while attending school, with roughly half of first-year enrollees living at or below the federal poverty line. Another 38 percent don’t enter school until after age 25.1

Of course 18-year olds still head off to college, but they arrive to very different demographics than did their parents or the generations before. Why aren’t Chief Admissions Officers waking up to this reality and doing more to help these supposedly “non-traditional” learners succeed in higher education?

Different paths

One answer could be is that expectations for college are changing as fast as schools are changing the makeup of their enrollments. For example, the rising costs of a post-secondary education means that students and their parents are less likely to commit to schools that don’t at least have a plan to connect the dots between education and career.

Rising interest in alternative education is also a problem. Enterprising students who take a gap year, had children, or spent their early 20s building a business are not only open to but actually forging different educational pathways, in some cases earning practical certifications to advance their careers, working the job in off hours or taking classes on weekends. Among post-secondary options, community college has proven to be particularly popular with non-traditional students. Lumina’s data finds that nearly half of all undergraduate students attend a two-year alternative rather than skip straight to a four-year school.

Can you blame them? Members of the 2016 graduating class exited school with a degree they financed and are $37,173 in debt, on average, according to data from researcher Mark Kantrowitz. Members of the 2015 graduating class left school with an average of $35,051 owed.2

Recognize that some learners, to keep costs down, may opt for community college or professional certification programs, or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). We also need to make it easy for students to get full credit for the work they’ve done elsewhere when transferring into a school. The last thing an eager learner needs is artificial roadblocks to success in their academic career, and only underscores the importance of a Transfer Student’s Bill of Rights.

Different students, different needs

Students looking to avoid the long-term pain of loans usually seek financial aid, but there’s less of it to go around now. Two recent reports from the College Board find that the net cost of college after accounting for grants, scholarships, and tax credits is rising because the so-called “sticker price” of a post-secondary education is rising faster than related increases in grant aid.

For example, average net tuition and fees at private, nonprofit colleges rose to $14,220 this fall from $13,340 last year at this time, when adjusting for inflation.3  The resulting 6.6 percent increase is more than double the average historical rate of inflation in the U.S. (3 percent) and over 16 times the annual increase in median family income. Institutions are often making it tougher to attract the learners most interested in spending on a post-secondary education.

Why not address the issue by including relevant scholarship and grant information when sending out recruiting mailers? Even if a school can’t offer a guarantee to prospective students, proactively providing insight and guidance for securing aid would be a welcome change for learners too often left to wonder what might be. And a lot of money goes unclaimed as a result; NerdScholar estimated the value of eligible but unused federal Pell grants at $2.9 billion following the 2014 school year.4

What to do now

We can come together to do a better job of serving the growing number of non-traditional learners in our midst, starting with using technology to find better schools and scholarship opportunities for students—whatever their age, history, or stage of academic journey. Coding electronic transcripts and certifications with machine-readable data for later analysis is a good start, and it’s something we’re already working on at Parchment.

No one who’s been an educator or who’s had the satisfaction of finishing an advanced degree will dispute the value of post-secondary education. The problem is there are too many starters and not enough finishers: 36 million Americans in the workforce today attended some college but never graduated with a degree.

We can get to work fixing this problem now, but first we need to recognize that our notion of the stereotypical college student is long outdated. Today’s future all-stars will take winding, uncommon paths to get the right credentials, and they’ll need relevant financial aid to go the distance. We can use technology to put students on the right path, right from the start.

SOURCING

  1. LinkedIn article: Zombies, college, and today’s student,” author: Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation.
  2. CBS News: Congrats, class of 2016: You’re the most indebted yet,” author: Aimee Picchi.
  3. The Washington Post: College costs rising faster than financial aid, report says,” author: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.
  4. NerdWallet: Students Leave Over $2.9 Billion in Free College Money on the Table,” author: Gianna Sen-Gupta.

Turning Credentials Into Opportunities: A Vision for Parchment

To our school and university members, employees and partners,

Parchment’s mission is to help turn credentials into opportunities, and we take this mission seriously. More than a slogan, it’s why most of us at Parchment joined the company and why so many schools, colleges and universities are members of the Parchment network.  

We include the qualifier “help” intentionally because it reminds us that our role is one of enabling. Our school and university members are the central players when it comes to making academic credentials a more effective and meaningful currency for pursuing opportunities for further education or in the labor market.

Three Big Enablers

We believe that to turn credentials into opportunities, we, as a community, have to do three fundamental things.

First, make all credentials digital, and digital credentials machine-readable data.
This may be self-evident in some quarters and a “technical detail” in others, but it’s a Big Idea nonetheless. When credentials are data:

  • Two-year institutions can track students who progress into a four-year program and award them an Associate’s degree in passing once they’ve met the requirements.
  • Employers can begin to evaluate and understand the relationship between postsecondary education experiences and outcomes, with the key talent management outcomes that drive their organization’s success.
  • Summative outcomes like courses and grades can be explored through hyperlinks to access course descriptions, syllabi and evidence of learning (e.g., key projects and papers).
  • High school students can assess their admissions probabilities at colleges of interest, and college admissions offices can use prior academic performance to help guide student course placement, not just make an admissions decision.
  • Linkages between learner, credentials and opportunities can be measured and leveraged in ways that help rationalize a patchwork system of education, credentials and occupational fields.

Digital technology removes the friction that keeps credentials separated, whether in manila file folders or in frames lining the hallway of a home. Credentials that live as data can be combined into a single profile that reflects a lifetime of academic achievement, giving learners not only the right, but also the ability, to control who sees their record and to put that information to work on their behalf.

Second, be more innovative in the form and function of credentials.
The transcripts we’ve used for generations were developed by institutions to document courses and credits for mobility within the education system. While respecting that important use, transcripts can and should be transformed, creating more value for learners, employers and academic institutions.

Next-generation transcripts will be visual, richer and more descriptive, showing achievement over time and the distribution of courses taken by topic or skill. Academic transcripts will be extended to include experiential achievements such as club leadership, study abroad and faculty research collaborations. Diplomas will be gateways to portfolios, which provide evidence of learning. And students will be able to select focal courses to highlight at the top of their transcript, calling an employer’s attention to relevant learning. In short, the one-size-fits-all credential types of transcripts and diplomas will give way to different credential formats that are more personalized to the purpose for which they are being requested.

Getting to this point will require us to think differently. Rather than presuming that transcripts and diplomas are summary documents that say essentially the same thing, what if we asked employers and admissions offices:  What do you want to know about our graduates? What should we track and how should we express it? Answering these questions thoroughly and honestly could lead us to a superset of data that gets turned into various credential types for various audiences, as needed.

Third, make credentials truly portable, allowing individuals to collect and manage their credentials throughout their lives.
This is a significant but crucial shift. When institutions control credentials they become fragmented for the learner who wants and needs a profile that reflects their collective achievements. When combined in this way—securely and verifiably, with the explicit permission of granting institutions—credentials become currency that helps learners forge a path forward. They create opportunities.

We live in a Credential Society

I am a radical incrementalist. I believe in the ability of technology to transform education, and I believe the way education is transformed is step by step, over time (and not Internet time). To do that and make the changes stick, we need to first recognize where we are now and how far we’ve come.

We live in a world where our economy and our society are knowledge-driven and knowledge-based. Roughly half of adult Americans have an academic credential such as a diploma or certificate, while one in four have a professional credential such as a certification or license. Credentials are the currency that allow us to gain entry into and benefit from this structure, but we lack a way to evaluate the knowledge and comparative value credentials convey.

As a society, we’ve become so awash in credentials that a Connecting Credentials framework  was developed last year to create a set of common reference points. The idea is to develop ways to compare the “level and types of knowledge” that are conferred by certain degrees, certificates, industry certifications, licenses, apprenticeships, badges and more, in order to fully account for all that students achieve in a lifetime of learning.1

It could take a decade of incremental change to get to the point where we can look at credentials and accurately compare the skill sets of two different, but highly skilled, professionals. In the meantime, we need a next-generation digital credential service that supports every transcript, every diploma, every certificate and certification, fully and digitally.

And once we have a fully digital infrastructure for education credentials, we can do more. We can evaluate how certain credentials are represented in the marketplace and help future generations to customize their education. We can also better match employers with prospective employees by studying how credentials affect work outcomes.

In short: we can optimize how students, universities, employers and government institutions spend their time and treasure on higher learning.

Stacking a Future, One Credential at a Time

Education has evolved. We’ve seen it. Many of us at Parchment have worked at schools and universities or in other technology companies that serve educational institutions. With digital technology, today’s graduates can collect and stack credentials that reflect what they learn over a lifetime, helping them navigate fluid careers that ebb and flow as skillsets probably change.

The more we commit to building a digital credential infrastructure, the more opportunities we create for learners to “stack” credentials together to show provable expertise worth hiring or admitting. And the more effectively we can serve employers who want to assess much more than a year-to-year change in GPA and learners who want to showcase their experiences. Institutions also benefit by decommoditizing programs and proving that not all credentials are equal.

But this only works if lifelong learners have a single profile for collecting every credential they earn, which is why we’ve been working so hard to create the next-generation digital credential service. In fact, we use the same three fundamental goals I’ve laid out as our product north stars: making credentials digital and machine readable, innovating the form and function of credentials and making credentials truly portable.

You’ll be hearing more about how our product roadmap is advancing all three from our SVP of Product and Support Rajeev Arora in an upcoming blog post. The evolving Parchment platform for digital credentials serves three distinct stakeholders: the issuer, the learner and the receiver. Each has a role to fulfill. It’s a big step on a long journey we’re taking on behalf of our members. I invite you to be a part of it.

Thank you,

Matthew Pittinsky, Parchment Chief Executive Officer



SOURCING:

  1. https://www.luminafoundation.org/resources/connecting-credentials

UPDATE: ITT Tech Student Credential Orders

Last month, we shared a blog post about how Parchment had begun taking what at the time were advanced credential orders for ITT Tech students.  Soon after, we began processing those orders as records became available and we are now pleased to report that as of Friday, October 14, the backlog of ITT Tech credential orders is at zero!  It is a great relief to know that ITT Tech students are no longer constrained by access to their records to pursue their education and career plans. Of course, at any one time there may be several hundred requests being processed, but orders should now be fulfilled within the standard 24 to 48 hour timeframe.

We know the road from then to now seemed too long for some ITT Tech students. There were two primary causes for long fulfillment times.  First, the circumstances of ITT Tech’s closure generated a very large number of requests, all urgent, in a very short period of time.  Second, compounding this backlog, the closure also meant it took longer to transfer ITT Tech records to Parchment for orders to be fulfilled.

To address the surge in requests for ITT Tech student orders, we doubled our member support staff so we could increase our speed to fulfill orders and respond to student inquiries. We also maintained a weekly cadence of communication with state agencies so they could understand how we were doing at the same time.

We look forward to continuing to assist ITT Tech students and alumni as quickly as we can. We have a dedicated student support team standing by right now to help with any student issue. Any students that may still have questions are encouraged to contact our team at support.parchment.com and one of our support staff will follow up right away.

Thank you to the many students who waited patiently during this process. We wish you the best of luck as you move on to your next educational or professional opportunity.

 

How to Use Lifetime Learning to Climb the Ladder

Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to adopt a lifelong learning habit. Some of us have one and don’t even know it.

Consider the customer service rep who scours the Internet to find old manuals that hold the answers for customers who call in with difficult questions. Every piece of gathered data improves her chances of serving well, which, in turn, increases her value.

Every industry has this version of the stereotypical go-getter. Journalists who master new research databases are learners. Machinists who figure out how to retool an assembly line are learners. And schoolteachers who spend summers digging through curriculum research are as much learners as the students they serve each fall.

Others graduate from spot-learning to formalized training. Sources range from sophisticated catalog operators such as lynda.com to association and corporate-led certification programs, to institutionally sponsored Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Which should you choose? Start with a program that not only fits your schedule, but also suits your learning style.

Then, make sure there’s a digitally-available certificate awarded upon completion. You may need it to prove you’ve acquired the skills to advance to the next level in your career.

The Increasing Importance of Stacking

Think of it like a video game, with new skills acting like power-ups that make you stronger and able to achieve more. The more skills you stack together, the more valuable you become to a prospective employer.

Certificates represent real life power-ups in the same way that onscreen icons represent power-ups in a video game. Having more is usually better, but it’s the combinations that make the biggest difference.

Say you’re a young network technician who one day dreams of becoming a Chief Information Officer. Adding Microsoft and Oracle certifications to your existing Cisco certification is a must, but to that you may also want to add some certified expertise large-scale systems administration and perhaps an MBA from a well-known technical university.

That’s stacking in order to climb the information technology career ladder. Dozens more industries are developing similar stacks to guide ambitious learners.

Not All Credentials Are Created Equal

While there are hundreds or even thousands of ways to add skills, employers usually want proof of learned expertise. That’s where verified credentials come in.

More than a PDF, a verified digital credential can only be issued by the organization whose brand it bears. At Parchment, we use Adobe blue-ribbon technology in combination with our platform innovations to provide this functionality to high schools and universities today.

Over time, we expect thousands of trainers, corporations, and associations will use the technology to provide their own forms of verified credentials to learners so that they can be easily shared with prospective employers.

Even Non-Artists Need a Portfolio

Simple, secure sharing is the ultimate promise of digital credentials and a learner’s best ally in climbing the career ladder.

To get there, we’ll first need a central place where entire stacks of verified credentials can be collected and stored. We’ll soon have news about how we’re improving the Parchment Credential Profile to serve this purpose. Think of it as a vault that holds a lifetime of stacked expertise that you’ll carry and build upon throughout your career.

Are you stacking credentials? To what end? Leave a comment to tell us your story. And if you’d like more information about creating your free, personal credential profile, or if you’re an institution looking to offer digital credentials to your constituents, get in touch now. We’d love to hear from you.

Parchment is Now Taking Advance Credential Orders for ITT students

At the center of  the closing of ITT Educational Services, Inc are the students and alumni who were pursuing their postsecondary education and now face the challenge of earning their degree  elsewhere.  Will other colleges accept their ITT credits?  When will they gain access to their transcripts to begin the process of transfer?  In many ways these questions reveal the broader issue of transferring course credits in the U.S. and the lack of a Transfer Student Bill of Rights.  But they are especially urgent and real for those who attended ITT and are now facing the involuntary need to change institutions.

The focus of this post is our announcement today that ITT has engaged Parchment to provide a convenient and national, online request and fulfillment service for ITT transcripts and related credentials.  This service will be available during ITT’s wind-down period and afterward, ensuring a secure and accessible avenue for students and alums to receive the transcript and diploma services they deserve.  As of noon Pacific today, orders may be placed at beta-www.parchment.com/ITT.

If you are a student, alumni or adviser to one, we have some important information to share about how the service works and some expectations to set for what your experience will be like in the first few weeks we are live.

Please be patient and expect initial fulfillment times to be slower than you deserve (several weeks).

Initially, ITT staff will start fulfilling requests placed on Parchment.com.  Their staff are limited, so it is likely that most orders will queue until ITT makes its records available to Parchment’s systems.  Once ITT’s records are available, Parchment can speed up processing time, but given the backlog of orders we will be starting with, we estimate that transcript fulfillment by Parchment will still take several weeks at first.  As the initial backlog of orders is cleared, we expect processing time to take less than 48 hours.  We have developed a special email that will be sent after each order explaining the processing timeline and how you can use Parchment’s online tracking tool to stay up-to-date.

Please take note of your graduation year as the service can support 2001 graduates to current students only.

We are only able to serve students and alumni with graduation years from 2001 to current students.

If you are sending your transcripts to a college or university, please use Parchment to send them electronically.

In addition to online request and tracking, Parchment provides the ability to send your transcripts electronically to colleges instead of us printing and mailing them.  When you start the ordering process, you will be asked to type in the destination.  With more than 80% of colleges accepting electronic transcripts, it is likely that we will recognize your destination and inform you that the admissions office prefers electronic delivery. (It is easier and faster for them to process electronic transcripts, especially when courses need to be evaluated for credit.) You can always choose to send via email to any email address or have printed and mailed to any address.

Please think twice before choosing overnight delivery as an option.

We provide an overnight delivery option, but because of the volume of requests we will be receiving at first, it will still take a while to process your request.  Once processed, we will send it overnight, of course. But we want to make sure that requestors understand that we cannot ensure 24-hour delivery following a request until the initial surge of orders are processed.

Please take advantage of our Help Center.

It’s natural to have questions and we have developed our Help Center to provide assistance when you need it.  If your main question, understandably, is “Where is my transcript?” or “When will my transcript go out?”, the tracking tool is your best and most up-to-date resource.  Beyond that, we have lots of tips and guides and when needed, you can file a support request via the Help Center and we will work to respond by email as soon as possible.  We are adding staff to help serve ITT students.  That said, the watchword remains patience as we work to serve a large number of students all at once.

Please understand that there is a fee.

Yes, I saved this one for last.  In cases like this we do what most state agencies and many colleges and universities do — we charge a request fee.  For electronic requests that fee is $12.  If you choose for your transcript to be printed and delivered by mail, there is an additional $2.50 handling fee.  We recommend you send electronically, both to save those costs and because it’s the delivery method colleges prefer.  If you choose overnight delivery or international destinations, the handling fee will be higher based on what you’ve chosen.

Schools or hiring agencies may need to request ITT credentials too.

While we anticipate the bulk of ITT credential orders to come directly from students and alumni, we recognize that there are colleges, universities, hiring agencies and other credential verifiers that have permission to request credentials on behalf of ITT students or alumni. In order to process these types of orders, requestors will need to be have a Parchment Receive account (don’t worry, its free we make it easy). Organizations looking to receive ITT credentials through Parchment can learn more about our Parchment Receive program here.

Our mission is to help turn credentials into opportunities.

At a time like this you are probably not interested in the mission statement of the organization that is providing your services.  That’s understandable.  I share it because we want you to know, that we know, how important gaining secure and speedy access to your transcript is.  We work everyday with learners in mind.  The credentials we enable are critical to so many transitions and goals that people are pursuing, from admissions, to licensing to employment.  You deserve our best and you will have it.  We need your patience at first as we complete the transition from ITT and work through a big backlog and rush.  Our sleeves are rolled up to make that happen as soon as possible.  

We wish you the best of luck, wherever your transcripts may take you.

Matthew Pittinsky, Ph.D.

CEO

Top Companies and Places That Need Transcripts and How They Use Them

Whether you’re counseling students still in high school or plotting strategy with thirty-somethings on the way to finishing graduate school, transcripts will follow them to the next stage of their academic and professional careers.

You can help them by better understanding how schools, employers, and government agencies use transcripts to make decisions. Below is a closer look at the general consumption habits of these groups, as well as the top receivers of Parchment transcripts in each.

Educational Institutions

Aside from letters of recommendation, the academic transcript is the most important document that crosses an administrator’s desk. Executive Director for Enrollment Management at Eastern Kentucky University Dr. Brett Morris recently shared with us the 10 things every high school counselor should tell their students about transcripts – so ensure your students are hitting these marks. Admissions teams generally use the data within to make determinations about the likely success of prospective university students.

In the last 12 months, these schools have received a combined total of more than 292,000 transcripts through Parchment:

  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Maryland  – College Park
  • Arizona State University
  • Michigan State University
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison

While these schools are different in their size and specialties, Parchment data shows that thousands of students are interested in these institutions. Nearly 10,000 are tracking Michigan State, for example.

Employers

While a transcript isn’t a must-have for employment in the same way that it is for gaining entry into a program of higher learning, hundreds of companies use transcripts to better understand how a new hire might perform on the job.

What are they looking for? A 2012 study published in the Chronicle of Higher Education found that choice of major and the workplace relevance of coursework matters more to employers than a high GPA.

“Work experience is the crucial attribute that employers want, even for students who have yet to work full-time,” said Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, commenting on the study in a 2014 article in The Atlantic.

How do transcripts help employers determine experience for a student whose resume is barren? Skilled managers can sometimes infer prior training and relative competency if the job in question involves skills taught in school. High performance in relevant coursework can be particularly telling in that sense.

The following employers are top receivers of Parchment transcripts:

  • Wells Fargo
  • Deloitte
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Boeing
  • Allstate
  • Cisco

While employers tend to use transcripts to forecast on-the-job performance, government agencies will often request them as a form of verification.

Government Agencies

Trust is crucial when it comes to government work, and as recent history proves it’s too easy to lie on a resume. For example, in 2012, a hedge fund manager revealed that then-Yahoo! chief executive Scott Thompson had never earned the computer science degree he had claimed on his C.V.

Not surprisingly, some agencies and military branches hedge against this type of cheating by asking candidates to supply an official transcript through Parchment. They include:

  • United States Army
  • NASA
  • United States Department of State

Whether it’s to get into a school, find a job, or start a career in government service, transcripts are an increasingly popular tool for evaluating and verifying credentials. Is your institution using Parchment to share data like the others on the list? Leave a comment with your story. And if not, here’s where to learn more.

Elon University Launches New Credential with Parchment: The Elon Academy Transcript

For years, Elon University has been at the forefront of innovating the form and function of academic credentials. We are proud to now be launching another innovative transcript, this time, the Elon Academy Transcript.

The Elon Academy is a non-profit college access and success program for academically-promising high school students in Alamance County with a financial need and/or no family history of college. The Academy includes three consecutive summer residential experiences prior to the start of their sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school, as well as year-round Saturday programs for students and families. The summer following high school graduation, scholars and families participate in the Elon Academy Transitions to College Program. Once on their respective college campuses, Elon Academy graduates and families are provided with continuing support through the Elon Academy College Success Program to bolster college completion rates.

The mission of the Elon Academy is to inspire underrepresented, yet academically promising, students to pursue higher education, build leadership skills, and develop an active sense of social responsibility. The Elon Academy began in 2007 and has enjoyed increasing success. In 2015, Elon University Registrar Dr. Rodney Parks saw the opportunity to give these students a unique advantage by transcribing their summer college preparatory experiences. Inspired by the recent growth of stackable credentials, Parks vision evolved into the new “Elon Academy Transcript”. Terry Tomasek, Elon Academy Director and Associate Professor of Education, was eager to advance the idea of documenting summer coursework and direct service hours for Academy students. Dr. Tomasek provided the functional components of the credential, including course and instructor information, course numbering, and historical participation data.

Myself, Melissa Holmes, Assistant Registrar for Technology, and Doug McIntyre, Senior Technical Specialist, developed all technical aspects of the new program in Colleague, the University’s student information system. After months of building, testing, and preparing for the 2016 cohort graduation, the Registrar’s Office is excited to present the 2016 Elon Academy graduating class the new Elon Academy Transcript. These students now have a verified credential reflecting all three summers of their participation, replete with their coursework, service, and co-curricular experiences.

The Elon Academy Transcript will serve Academy students well, adding an impressive dimension to admission packets. It may also give them an advantage over other applicants when applying for part-time jobs in the community or on campus. Elon Academy Students also have the option to request their Elon Experiences Transcript, which complements in-class experiences with a record of their service hours worked while attending the Academy. Together, these credentials constitute a well-rounded view of each student’s experiences, replacing a purely anecdotal record. The new transcript also opens the possibility of institutional evaluation for prior-learning credit.

The Elon Academy Transcript is the newest addition to Parchment’s array of document solutions offered to Elon learners. It can be delivered electronically to any admissions office in the country, professionally portraying the accomplishments of Elon Academy students in an authentic watermarked document.

 

7 Tips for Institutions Preparing to Transition from Paper to Digital

At Parchment, we’ve helped hundreds of institutions around the country make the switch from paper to digital transcripts. There’s good reason to do so: Not only are digital transcripts easier to compile and send, they also cost less and integrate with other systems for producing valuable data about the educational experience.

We’ve learned a lot of lessons as we’ve helped institutions make the switch to digital transcripts. Here are seven tips to make the process go smoothly.

  1. Document your entire paper transcript ordering and delivery system. Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe, AZ had a nine-step process for requesting and processing paper transcripts. Documenting it allowed administrators to witness the inefficiency in excruciating detail, which helped to motivate the team to take action and switch to digital.
  2. Learn what all of your constituents want. Parents of students at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville, SC wanted to be able track transcripts from request to delivery and keep on top of college applications. Implementing Parchment Send allowed administrators to give parents that capability with a few simple clicks from any Internet browser.
  3. Identify problem areas. Transcript processing had become a significant bottleneck for administrators at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, TX. Manual processes had broken down to the point where requested transcripts would get lost and fees would go uncollected. Registrar Michael Rendon also wanted data on how and when students were requesting transcripts, and for what purpose. “Parchment analytics allow you to do exactly that, slicing and dicing the data in as many ways as you can think of,” Rendon says.
  4. Make an integration plan. Furman University in Greenville, SC didn’t just want a digital transcript ordering system. It wanted a fully integrated infrastructure, which in this case meant integrating Parchment with the school’s Ellucian enterprise administrative system. The whole process took four months and now transcripts that used to take 4 to 6 hours to process are now completed in 30 minutes and monitored as they travel from Furman to students and other institutions.
  5. Decide what you’ll automate. Once you’ve identified all the steps in your paper process and singled out the problem areas, you’ll want to make a plan to automate the worst offenders. That’s what Charles Musgrove, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Temple University in Philadelphia, did. Using Parchment, the school now accepts application documents digitally and matches them into an Ellucian system similar to the one used at Furman. What had been a 12-week affair had been automated into about a day’s worth of processing.
  6. Develop metrics for success. Administrators at Maclay School, a Tallahassee, FL-based college prep school wanted a digital system that would provide data and guidance. Parchment fulfilled the need by providing students with insights regarding where to apply based on likely acceptance rates. As a result, 100 percent of Maclay’s 2014 graduating class was accepted into a postsecondary program.
  7. Think big. Moving to digital transcripts can have a variety of downstream benefits. For Ball State University in Muncie, IN that included eliminating file cabinets that used to hold all the paper needed to house and process new student applications. The reclaimed office space is now used for administrators who spend their time finding and admitting the best candidates, rather than pushing paper.

Finally, remember that even the best plan will take time to execute. Be patient and stay with it, always keeping the end in mind. Switching from paper always pays off in the long run.

“[Parchment enables] a lot less stress, transcript delivery status tracking, and a yearly savings of around $4,500,” says Maclay’s College Coordinator, Lisa McCall.

Why Students, Employers and Schools Need to Move Faster To Make Stackable Credentials Available to All

While there’s no disputing the value of a college degree when it comes to earning potential, nearly three-quarters of grads end up working in a field that’s unrelated to what they studied in school.

Liberty Street Economics made that forecast after studying Census Data from 2010.1 Academics have spent the years since discussing ways to connect the dots between learning and professional achievement, leading many — including us here at Parchment — to advocate for what are known as stackable credentials.

Forming a Career Path, One Credential at a Time

Simply defined, stackable credentials are a series of earned milestones. Complete the “stack” and collect the associated credentials and you’ll have verifiable expertise that has a value. The more credentials you have, the more valuable you should be to an employer.

And you don’t need to have a college degree to benefit from this concept. High school grads and professionals with some community college can also benefit from the pathways formed by stackable credentials.

Say you’re a nurse with an associate’s degree who works at a local doctor’s office. Adding a patient care technician certificate could lead to switching to long-term care, and earning more for your services. Stackable credentials codify and certify achievement, and, as such, it behooves the major players in each industry to design the “stacks” that teach the skills they’re seeking.

The combinations are virtually endless, and they’re not always vertical. Think of IT managers. Competency can be measured by certifications in different types and brands of systems — from Microsoft to Cisco to Oracle and more. That horizontal progression isn’t available to financial analysts, who advance vertically by passing different levels of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam.

Credentials can be stacked for the purpose of broadening a portfolio or for leveling up in a particular skill. Or, sometimes, for both. For example, a nurse looking to get hands-on experience in a hospital emergency room could need at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as a certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) to administer an IV or emergency pharmacology to revive patients suffering heart trauma.2

nurseWorking Together to Make Stacking Real

Today, students stack credentials on their own because there’s been no other alternative. Schools and employers can work together to change that, though the nonprofit Lumina Foundation has already put in place one of the key pieces. Through an initiative called Connecting Credentials, Lumina is bringing together some 80 distinct institutions to help set common standards for certifications so that learning and achievement becomes easier to quantify, helping employers find candidates who’ve proven they have the skills that hiring managers need most.

Bringing consistency to credentials is important, but it’s also just a first step. Four-year, two-year and vocational education institutions also need to pitch in by helping to better define pathways for students. Think of the undergrad student who wants to make films. What credentials should they stack, and in what order? Helping define not just a curriculum for that student but also a relevant stack is crucial if they’re to graduate with meaningful job prospects to go with a big tuition bill. In that area, in particular, learners have never needed our help more. Each second, U.S. student loan debt rises an estimated $2,276.

Watch the clock here. Then wipe your brow, take a drink of water and remember: with stackable credentials we can do more to make education valuable. But we need to act now.

SOURCING:

  1.    http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2013/05/do-big-cities-help-college-graduates-find-better-jobs.html#.V3LyxZMrJE5
  2.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_cardiac_life_support

How Education Elevates the Middle Class and Creates a Stronger Economy

A college degree isn’t as common as you might think. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, only 34.9 percent of working Americans have a four-year college degree.

Some states are more educated than others. For example, Massachusetts and The District of Columbia are particular draws for grads, with 49 percent and 66.3 percent, respectively, having earned a bachelor’s degree or better. On the flip side, less than one-quarter of Mississippi workers have at least a bachelor’s degree.1

Sobering as those stats may be, it’s important to note that the EPI’s figures don’t count associate degree earners as having completed college. And while that’s technically true, it’s also a missed opportunity. Associate degree holders tend to earn materially more than those who never went beyond high school. They can also qualify for better jobs, according to Dr. Barbara L. Brown, assistant vice chancellor for transitional and general education with the University System of Georgia.

As she sees it, helping more students get their associate degrees could be a boon for middle class America.

The Surprising Value of an Associate Degree

Key to the effort is finding students who’ve invested in some coursework at the two-year level before transferring or pausing their college careers. They may be due an associate degree they’ve yet to claim; Brown and her team of researchers are compiling data to find out how many of these students are lurking in the University System of Georgia.

There’s good reason to root for her. While you wouldn’t know it from the EPI data, there is a provable earnings difference between those who stop their education after high school and those who seek an associate degree. A Pew Research Center report published in 2014 found that Millennial holders of associate degrees not only earned more ($30,000 on average vs. $28,000 for those who only finished high school) but were also less likely to end up in poverty (14.7 percent vs. 21.8 percent).2

Brown says that associate degree holders also tend to have better prospects. “There are some jobs that you can’t even apply for if you don’t have at least an associate’s degree, and others where having an associate degree is a requirement for promotion,” she says, citing local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as fire departments. “So, while most people are interested in bachelor’s degrees, there is a real value in associate’s degrees for students who don’t have a degree yet.”

Giving the Middle Class a Leg Up

While all students entering college have the intent of getting a degree, plenty will either pause or end their educational career for a wide range of reasons. Some will get a job or pursue an entrepreneurial interest. Others will start a family and reprioritize college. Still others may be forced to tend to a sick friend or family member. Nationally, only 59 percent of first-time, full-time students who started pursuing a degree at a four-year institution graduated within six years.3

Brown says that some who leave or pause should have a degree in hand by the time they go, and her team has partnered with schools and Parchment to help put transcripts in the hands of registrars who award associate degrees. Already, 112 of the first 459 recipients of emails telling students they might be eligible for associate degrees  have applied to receive their associate degrees. Three institutions participated in the first round: East Georgia State College, Georgia Southern University, and Augusta University.

A system-wide full-scale effort is in progress now, with emails being sent to likely qualifiers enrolled at any of the 29 schools in the University System of Georgia. Brown expects a big response. “We are estimating our pool of eligible candidates at potentially 12,000 students. They may not all apply, but if they came in at a 25 percent return rate — about what we’ve seen previously — it would result in 3,000 new degrees,” she says.

A National Opportunity

Putting 3,000 workers with associate degrees into the system won’t alter the economics of the American middle class. Heck, it may not even make a dent in the short term. But longer term, Brown’s efforts are instructive and provide a template for other state university systems. Their combined impact could be enormous.

“In a way, [the associate degree] is kind of invisible degree because everybody is so focused on the bachelor’s degree,” Brown says. “But I think it does have a value for those who get it: in terms of job mobility, salary to some extent, and just being more consistently employed.”

For middle class America, that’s about as good as it gets right now.

SOURCING:

  1. http://www.epi.org/publication/almost-two-thirds-of-people-in-the-labor-force-do-not-have-a-college-degree/
  2. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/the-rising-cost-of-not-going-to-college/
  3.  https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=40
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