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Higher Ed & Workforce Groups Release New Framework on Embedding Industry Certifications Into Bachelor’s Degrees

December 1, 2020

A new framework to support the development and scaling of certification-degree pathways has been published today by Workcred – an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) – in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). This collaborative, nationwide initiative that culminated in the development of the framework was made possible by a grant from Lumina Foundation.

The framework supports the development and scaling of certification-degree pathways, accessible to and used by all students. Specifically, the framework identifies examples, opportunities, benefits, and challenges associated with integrating industry certifications into bachelor’s degrees. The framework can be used by certification bodies and universities to test different strategies and practices to better align certification and degree programs.

With the objective of improving student success and employability outcomes, and to inform the development of the framework, universities and certification bodies from across the U.S. participated in convenings to discuss opportunities and solutions to barriers of embedding certifications into bachelor’s degree programs. The series of convenings specifically explored opportunities in the growing fields of healthcare, cybersecurity, manufacturing, and the liberal arts.

"The goal of our effort is to unlock opportunities for students to earn multiple credentials that have value in the labor market,” said Workcred executive director Roy Swift. "The opportunity to collaborate across different parts of universities—both degree and professional and continuing education departments—and among accredited certification bodies gives us confidence that participants were able to learn from each other to optimize practices."

Embedding or aligning certifications and bachelor’s degrees offers numerous benefits for students, certification bodies, universities, and employers. Certification-degree pathways provide students with a broad-based education and industry-specific skills that hiring managers seek in new hires.  “The opportunities credential-degree pathways provide are incredibly important for all types of students and particularly relevant for adult learners as they may need to upskill or reskill into new roles. Having an industry-valued credential as well as a degree can increase job opportunities and lead to better pay for students,” Julie Uranis, UPCEA’s vice president of online and strategic initiatives.

“Credential-degree pathways provide opportunities for certification bodies, as these pathways can increase awareness and attainment of certifications as well as articulate how certifications relate to a variety of career and credential pathways,” emphasized Karen Elzey, Workcred associate executive director. “Further, colleges and universities can improve their responsiveness to the needs in their regions, recruiting new students by developing more opportunities to count certifications for academic credit towards a bachelor’s degree, and differentiating their programs from other higher education programs.”

“Building labor-market relevant credentials into degree programs can be an important strategy to reduce inequities and improve social and economic mobility,” said Shari Garmise, executive director of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities. “Those labor-market credentials improve labor market outcomes by certifying skill attainment which may help eliminate implicit bias in the hiring process, enable students to assume industry-related jobs during college, and, as part of the curriculum, would be covered by financial aid, allowing access and benefits to historically minoritized populations.”

Credentials provide employers with information on what an individual knows and is able to do. They can also detail the specific competencies a candidate possesses in addition to the broad-based education they have completed.

“Public research universities are committed to improving the workforce outcomes of their students and to addressing the workforce needs of local economies. This approach can ensure students that their credentials will have value to the labor market, and it can ensure employers that graduates have the skills required to perform in the workplace,” stressed Sheila Martin, vice president for economic development and community engagement at APLU.

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