We all know that we have a legacy as a nation of defining educational quality based far too much on prestige and exclusivity. Our systems of quality assurance assumed a particular type of student on a particular type of path. Those assumptions are misaligned with the way students go to college today—who those students are and what they actually need from learning beyond high school. We also know that the current system—in practice if not by its very design—fosters inequity in access to quality credentials.

Debra Humphreys, Lumina vice president of strategic engagement and the Quality Credentials Task Force’s co-chair talks about the task force’s vision for creating a quality higher education system and why we can’t meet that goal without focusing on racial justice and equity.

The system doesn’t do enough to ensure quality learning—and it has served black, Latino, and American Indian students, as well as low-income students of all races and ethnicities, particularly poorly. For decades, persistent inequities have caused students from these backgrounds to earn credentials at far lower rates than their white peers.

That’s why Lumina created the Quality Credentials Task Force as a way to urge institution leaders, state and federal policymakers, accreditors, faculty members, and other stakeholders to forge a new vision for educational quality and equity.

We believe we need a post-high school education system that defines quality based on evidence that credentials prepare students with relevant skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and the knowledge necessary to pursue additional learning and enjoy fulfilling lives as workers, citizens, and community members.

What defines “quality” in education after high school? What does a high-quality credential look like in real terms and for which students? What does it take for an institution to assure quality in all its programs? What policies do we need to protect students and assure that they have access to quality educational pathways? And, most importantly, what do quality credentials mean in the lives and careers of today’s students?

These are the urgent questions we set out to answer a year ago when we called 22 education, policy, and workforce leaders together to create the task force. Together, we agreed on one thing from the start: The need to expand access to high-quality credentials is becoming increasingly urgent. As the demands of our workforce have evolved alongside technological innovation and a global economy, so has the landscape of post-high school learning. Unfortunately, the systems we use to assure and improve quality in learning beyond high school have not kept up.

The task force met three times over the course of the year to develop Unlocking the Nation’s Potential—a new report that outlines this vision of quality and equity for today’s students and details a set of key quality indicators that can help guide reforms and aid in tracking results—all with a sustained focus on equity.

The conceptual model outlined in the report begins with the individual and societal outcomes that we know high-quality credentials can produce. It then maps back to the program design and student-centered policies and practices that ensure the system actually works to produce those outcomes equitably.

We hope the task force’s report and this new model will spark a dialogue among leaders and educators who can work together to translate our collective vision into real reforms in education policy and practice. Our shared future depends on this type of collaboration, and on its ability to increase equitable access to quality degrees and other credentials.

Profound changes in the economy, in society, and in educational systems and institutions require equally profound changes in the way we regulate the sector and assess and improve credential quality. We must act now so this generation of students has access to high-quality educational programs that will truly open the doors for economic opportunity, social mobility, and full civic participation.

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