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CECE Talent & Workforce Case Study Spotlight: Piloting Learning and Employment Records at the University of North Texas

August 31, 2020

By: Mike Simmons, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of North Texas and Meena Naik, Program Director, University of North Texas

University of North Texas

During this period of dynamic change and challenge for higher education, we are willing to bet there are some questions you are probably NOT hearing on campus.  

For example, has anyone asked: What is a learning and employment record (LER)? 

It is our hope in this brief post to share the University of North Texas’ experiences with LERs to better align education and workforce needs and help make the case for why, now—more than ever—CECE members and other higher education leaders in the areas of community engagement, student success, and talent development should pay mind to this new movement.

It is our belief that now, more than ever, public universities need to demonstrate their valuable contribution to the workforce and economy and it must be articulated well and consistently. It is equally important that students understand their value in the talent marketplace as a result of the university experiences. LERs can be a part of the solution.

Our stakeholders need to see a direct relationship between the work of the University and the economic benefit. This has not always been so important, but going forward it will be.

Historically we tried to signal the value of a college education using grades and courses on  transcript and other documents which employers could use to assess a candidate’s career readiness, but an LER has the potential to be a more robust expression of the educational value of a college education.

Comprehensive Learner Records (CLRs) or, more recently called Learner and Employment Records (LER) is a new digital record that is intended to verify and capture learning wherever it takes place including in classrooms, through work and military experiences, internships, and experiential learning. This new version of signaling skill and knowledge attainment puts the ownership of records lands in the hands of a learners to use for future educational and employment opportunities.

Several national initiatives related to learner records already exist. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s T3 network involves over 400 organizations who “explore how to use emerging technologies to better align education, workforce, and credentialing data with the needs of the new economy.” (see the T3 Network’s overview video of LERs)

The Lumina Foundation’s Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) project in partnership with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and NASPA: Association of Student Affairs Professionals includes a wide range of colleges and universities.

Groups like the IMS Global Learning Consortium and Credential Engine are among other organizations making important contributions to this work.

UNT is a public, research oriented, community engaged, large, Hispanic serving (HSI), and growing institution – not unlike other APLU member institutions.

Our UNT Career Connect case study demonstrates that a large research public university can meet the challenge of building a comprehensive and interoperable learner record based on the innumerable learning activities that can easily slip through the cracks despite their impact on student learning.

This is not to say that the LER solution appeared out of thin air. It has been an interesting journey, but once we recognized that the faculty are already creating opportunities to develop these skills in students, we knew we could build a system to support and document it and truly center our work on supporting the student journey.

UNT Connect has implemented an LER meant to help students recognize and articulate the many skills they are exposed to and develop in the variety of course and co-curricular experiences in preparation for twenty-first century careers.

A major emphasis of Career Connect is to help students collect, connect, and showcase relevant experiences (curricular and co-curricular) as evidence of marketable skills. The learner record supports all of these goals while also offering university staff and those with whom the record is shared a compelling way to visualize and make informed decisions about a student's learning and skill attainment journey.

To do this, UNT Connect works collaboratively with faculty, staff, and other partners across the university and in the community. We chose to focus wherever possible on high-impact learning experiences many CECE members organize (e.g. service-learning, community engagement, volunteering, etc.) as opportunities to capture evidence of learning by linking learning outcomes, in this case, skills to digital credentials and the learner record.

Why community engaged high-impact educational practices? It has been shown repeatedly that students who participate in high-impact experiences that are engaged in the community benefit from these specific instructional strategies educational experiences and are able to build and refine their marketable skills.

Extending this record of evidence from “work done” to “skills learned,” all UNT Career Connect partnerships include skills assessments for both in-class and out-of-classroom experiences. As students engage in high-impact experiences, they are evaluated for skill-based learning outcomes in areas such as communication or critical thinking or teamwork.

When they demonstrate proficiency, they receive a digital micro-credential. When students do this over time, the institution is able to issue these micro-credentials that stack (combine) into competency credentials as reasonable evidence that is not well reflected in a traditional academic transcript of curricular knowledge attainment.

Learners are handed these credentials in a learner record that is owned by them and can be shared with prospective employers. Further, administrators gain a compelling view of how their students are progressing through their coursework and attaining marketable skills as a result of credential awards and organization dashboards. Given that our credentials are grounded in community-engaged and high-impact experiences, each credential also signals the institution’s contribution to economic and community engagement.

APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement’s framework which encompasses both talent development, innovation, and community engagement is directly related to the conversation about adequate and innovative documentation of learning.

In these uncertain times a clearer demonstration of wide range of employability skills is important. This is where comprehensive public universities can shine.  The breadth and range of high impact and engaged experiences students can get at a university is unequaled. 

The reputation of universities is still valuable, lending credibility to the skills that students demonstrate as they complete their education. The LER addresses this as a mechanism and tool meant to showcase what we do for students and the community, what students learn beyond a degree’s curricular goals, and ultimately, the value of the postsecondary educational opportunity.

For UNT, the process has revolved around leveraging the LER as a means to capture evidence of learning, over time, through powerful community-engaged and high-impact learning experiences, and signal to students the collateral learning they gain as a result of their experiences: enduring marketable skills.    

Now we return to the question of what does an LER have to do with CECE members?

We believe that collaborations among and between CECE members and APLU institutions could be key to unlocking the power of the LER, and that when additional APLU institutions can join the existing national efforts the work will move forward exponentially.  We encourage you to reach out to us or to APLU’s Office of Economic Development and Community Engagement if you have similar experiments underway at your institution this work resonates with you.

Liked this post? APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement is home to campus administrators working to advance talent and workforce development, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and placemaking via community and public engagement. Join CECE at APLU.org/JoinCECE.

  • Commission on Economic & Community Engagement

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