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The time is right to ensure that all quality learning counts

By Frank Swanzy Essien Jr., Michelle Van Noy, and Heather McKay

People who want to learn but can’t afford or get access to education and training after high school should be helped with high-quality programs that result in degrees, certificates and other credentials. As always, though, the question is, how do we ensure that new programs live up to their promise of offering pathways to new and better careers?

Among the ideas out there - increasing the value of Pell Grants and making them available for short-term programs, which would allow grants for eight-week programs; currently, they must be at least 15 weeks.

Lumina and several of our partners have been working hard on the quality issue. We convened a year-long Quality Credentials Task Force that looked at all the ways that credentials prepare students to keep learning and earning. The task force report created a broad umbrella definition of quality that applies across all credentials.

We also asked the experts at Rutgers University’s Employment and Education Center to provide a framework to guide the development of standards and processes that evaluate the quality aspects of shorter-term, non-degree credentials.

In a nutshell, what we found is that non-degree credentials are high quality if they are well-designed and include relevant instruction, accessibility, transparency, portability, and assessments. Once complete, students must be able to show their new, valuable competencies to the world at large, including educators and employers.

Clearly, more work lies ahead. We need help on several fronts from policymakers, educators, employers and advocates:

  • Given that data on non-degree credentials is significantly limited, we need policies that promote better data collection and sharing among educational institutions, industry certification bodies, and state departments that oversee occupational licensure. This will help create transparency and broader knowledge of outcomes.
  • We also need policies that encourage educational institutions to recognize credentials for continued education, and employers to use them in hiring. In other words, we need to incentivize the development and promotion of high-quality non-degree credentials.
  • We also need policies to help create statewide or regional credential registries that can be used by all stakeholders as they work to recognize and validate credential programs.

The time is right to act with new ideas to increase educational attainment while ensuring high quality. At Lumina we believe that all of us have crucial roles to play as we support innovative new policies and put essential practices to work. Together, on behalf of America’s students, let’s ensure that all quality learning counts.

Michelle Van Noy is the Associate Director of the Education and Employment Research Center at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers.          

Heather A. McKay of Rutgers is the director of the Education and Employment Research Center at the School of Management and Labor Relations.

Tracy Chen
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
August 8, 2019

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in the United States that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.