239. Credential As You Go

Students from low-income households often encounter barriers that prevent them from completing a degree. These students are left with a large burden of student debt, limited job opportunities, and low wages. In this episode, Nan Travers and Holly Zanville join us to explore the possibility of a flexible education system that would allow students to gain credentials incrementally by documenting all of their learning throughout their educational and career experiences.

Nan is the Director of the Center for Leadership in Credential Learning at SUNY Empire State College. Holly is a Research Professor and Co-Director of the Program on Skills, Credentials, and Workforce Policy at the GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University. Nan and Holly are co-leads on the Credential As You Go project.


John: Students from low-income households often encounter barriers that prevent them from completing a degree. These students are left with a large burden of student debt, limited job opportunities, and low wages. In this episode, we explore the possibility of a flexible education system that would allow students to gain credentials incrementally by documenting all of their learning throughout their educational and career experiences.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Nan Travers and Holly Zanville. Nan is the Director of the Center for Leadership in Credential Learning at SUNY Empire State College. Holly is a Research Professor and Co-Director of the Program on Skills, Credentials, and Workforce Policy at the GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University. Nan and Holly are co-leads on the Credential As You Go project. Welcome, Holly. And welcome back, Nan.

Holly: Thank you.

Nan: Hi.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Holly, are you drinking tea?

Holly: I am, green tea with lemon.

Rebecca: Perfect. How about you, Nan?

Nan: I’m actually drinking a plain seltzer. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: That’s a good choice. It’s a good choice.

John: And I am drinking Irish breakfast tea, again.

Rebecca: I’m back to the supreme English breakfast again, John.

John: We’ve invited you both here to talk about the credential-as-you-go project. How did your collaboration on this project begin?

Holly: Well, let me start, if that’s all right. I think about this as several trains, actually, converging in a train station. [LAUGHTER] First, there was the Prior Learning Assessment train, or PLA, which is really addressing the growing importance of recognizing learning acquired through prior coursework or through work, military travel, and other non-classroom venues. But at the same time, and this is many years ago, there was a national effort around reverse transfer to recognize significant learning equivalent to the associate degree that occurs when a community college student transfers to a university without acquiring the associate degree when they were at the community college, but they do acquire that learning once they’re en route to the baccalaureate at the university. So there were many efforts underway to develop mechanisms that will enable folks to award the associate degree to those community college students who transferred in many, many states around the US. And I was actually at the Lumina Foundation, then, as Strategy Director working with several foundations to help fund this type of work. But really troubling in this work, as great as that was, was a lack of parity for students who started at the four-year institution. What about them? What about them when they acquired learning equivalent to an associate’s degree? What about fairness? The data were telling us that 50% or so of the students at community colleges and public four-year institutions leave before the baccalaureate. So those tea leaves, [LAUGHTER] since we’re speaking about tea, were really clear, that higher education loss recognized valuable learning, credentialed learning. So when I was at Lumina, we made a new grant then to SUNY Empire State College to explore the concept of a credential-as-you-go approach for both community colleges and universities that would recognize that important learning is acquired at the workplace as well, assess that and recognize that in an improved system overall, and that would pull on the importance of prior learning assessment. And it would also incorporate advances in technology that were really getting much more prevalent that would let us think about data systems that could automatically determine when you had completed all the requirements for a credential, and Nan, luckily, was the PI at the effort that was working on that. And that’s when we started to collaborate, particularly on this larger credential-as-you-go concept, and implement a rapid prototype and to really try this out.

Nan: So in addition to that, we also had some other projects that were going on. At that time, Holly was also the strategy director at Lumina Foundation, in which we were looking at some different frameworks for being able to assess student learning, as well as really connecting the different kinds of competencies and credentials. And so with that work, we were also working with the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, Larry Good, who is the third co-lead on this project. So we’ve really been trying to think about how to bring together all of this work over the years that really works to being able to identify learners’ knowledge and skills, and being able to credential that regardless of the learning source.

John: So the basic problem is we have this pipeline where students go into colleges and don’t finish and they end up with these very high burdens of debt that make it really hard for them to make progress in their careers and so forth. And so the goal, then, as I understand it, is to tie all the learning that students have done together into some type of pathway that will allow them to progress forward, both prior learning that they’ve done on the job and in their everyday experiences, as well as any additional training they require through formal college and microcredentials. Is that a good summary of the goal of this program?

Nan: Yes, John, it is a good summary of it. What we really want to make sure is that learners are not left with learning on the table where they have to walk away from it and not be recognized for what they know and they can do. With the current higher ed system, we have a four-tiered degree system that we are basing everything on, but many learners actually come, they get the kinds of competency use their knowledge and skills that they need, they go to work, they gain more knowledge and skills in the workplace, and many of them go unrecognized. The data is pretty clear on this, that a little more than 50% of the adult population in this country do not have a college degree, and 1/3 of those have some college and no degree. So what we see is that we have a very large number of people who have learning that could apply to a college-level credential, but are not being recognized. And so we really have to be rethinking this system so that we can meet the needs of our adult population across the country.

Holly: And one last point I would add is that, in the middle of all this flux over the last 10, 20 years, workforce demands have changed, and the workforce demands are changing such that degrees are not required, particularly in this climate now for all jobs. And that means that shorter-term credentials that save some time and money that enable individuals to enter the workforce, and skill up over their entire lifetime. College is not just for six, eight years, it’s going to be a lifetime of acquiring competence and skills. It creates a situation where we need a different type of post-secondary system, we need a system that is made up of an array of different kinds of credentials, some short term, some that stack toward degrees into pathways, and that there are many ways in which you acquire competency and skills. So the employer side of the learn and work ecosystem has become very, very important. And we’re striving actually toward a transformation of the entire higher-ed system.

Rebecca: So, microcredentials have grown in popularity over the last decade and this idea of stackable credentials, there’s certainly a move in this direction. But why is there a need to go beyond just these more typical micro credentials and typical degree pathways that we’ve had before? You’ve talked about this need to do something a little more than that.

Holly: But it’s interesting that you use the word microcredential as typical because they are not typical in the current system. The typical system was what Nan already referred to, our four-tiered degree system, is typical. And what we’re recognizing is that there is an array of credentials. Some folks call them microcredentials, some call them non-degree credentials, some call them micro pathways, there are more and more synonyms for essentially what is the same thing, and it’s causing tremendous confusion in our system. But we do recognize that shorter-term non-degree credentials are needed, and they need to be woven into a system that makes sense that students and employers can understand. And that we can make changes in our curriculum to accommodate this change around the array of credentials that have value.

Nan: And so we really want to be able to capture people’s learning throughout their entire learning process, and not have the perception that when you’re done with a degree, you are just done with your learning, and that somehow, you can’t be captured for additional learning that you’ve acquired. And so when we think about the types of learning that is happening in the non-credit, and the credit from entry level all the way up through… we were talking with one of our institutions earlier today, one of the institutions in the project, and they were saying at the community college level, that they have the highest number of graduate students taking courses at their institution more than the universities in their whole area. And so when we start to think about the ways in which adults are gaining knowledge, and gaining the skills that they need in order to stay employed, to get reemployed, upskill, and be able to also continually grow and learn throughout their lives, the system right now does not capture that. And so we leave people hanging out there where they’ve got to figure out a way to get recognized for what they know. And so really, what we want is a system… and that’s why a project is called credential-as-you-go… that as people move through their lives, that they can be recognized formally, and be able to use those credentials in order to continue their education and for employment.

Holly: The other factor that’s emerging in this is the technology factor, and the development of learning and employment records, a type of e-wallet, as many people are calling them, that would be self sovereign, where learners, would take it with them wherever they go, kind of like your health record. And that on that record goes learning acquired in the world of work and from the military and from your college and universities, in some cases from high schools, where students increasingly are acquiring some industry awarded certifications and certain types of certificates. And that technology record is going to be very important to fit into this entirely transformed system that many folks are envisioning.

John: So one of the goals is to work towards a sort of common platform that any type of learning could be incorporated into to make it easier for individuals to share what they’ve learned with potential employers and for employers to get some record of the training that people have acquired?

Nan: There are groups that are working on platforms, such as what Holly was just talking about in terms of that digital wallet, or the learn and employment record, the comprehensive record that would incorporate, we do see a lot of movement there. Our project is not focused specifically on that, although we are integrating that work and looking at the ways in which technology can really help us here. And including in that technology is also thinking about a more comprehensive auditing system where people can be auto awarded for their credentials, because what we’re anticipating is that as people are acquiring more and more of the incremental credentials, that there are times that a learner will not realize that they’ve met one of these and that they need to be doing that. So there is a part of our project that is looking at technology and the technology solutions, but thinking about it from a holistic perspective in terms of what is the learner need, what are institutions’ needs? And then at a national level, what are the kinds of repositories that can really provide the right information about credentials, such as credential engine. And so by bringing those kinds of three pieces together, thinking about how we can meet the needs of the future of education.

Holly: And I would say, John, the one issue that I have with what you said was higher education doesn’t typically think of having common credentials, because there are many differences among them, among their kinds of programs, etc. And what we’re purely interested in is transparency of credentials, I might call mine X, and you may call yours Y. But what we want to know is: “Can you translate that so an employer and the student and others can understand?” Just tell me what those competencies and skills are that that credential that I carry on my wallet stands for. And those are the issues that we’re trying to address is put them into some understandable language so that we can translate and then we can carry with us. We don’t think that there will ever be a common list of credentials, but they can be interoperable and they can be decoded, so we can understand what they are.

John: It’s hard enough to get people in a department to agree on what they’re doing…

Holly: Exactly.

John: …trying to get across institutions with that challenge, that’s probably beyond the scope of anything that could be done by a group such as this, but making more transparent the learning that people have received so that it could be shared more easily sounds like a really wonderful thing to be doing.

Rebecca: The conversation’s really interesting to me, based on the discipline that I’m in, because I’m in design, and in kind of a coding side of design. So this is not radical to me at all. This is why it seems typical. [LAUGHTER] But when we look at all of higher ed, it seems quite radical, but in the area that I’m in, boot camps are really common ways of demonstrating knowledge about certain kinds of coding skills, or portfolios are good ways of representing design skills, that are these transferable kind of credential like things that you can show somebody and people understand what they mean.

Holly: Yeah. And some disciplines really do lend themselves to common standards, because they’re accredited by national, in some cases international, organizations. So nursing and cybersecurity and there are several other professions. Many of the IT professions are guided by common competency standards, and the faculty in those disciplines, they’re not troubled, just like you’re not so much Rebecca. [LAUGHTER] On the other hand, many of the liberal arts faculty do approach their disciplines as very unique. And so we have got to accommodate the largesse of the post-secondary system. And the ask is just tell us what competences and skills your credential stands for, and let everyone else figure it out.

Rebecca: I’m really curious about how you see this project impr oving equity for students. You’ve hinted at some of these ideas as we’ve been talking, but I’m wondering if you can underscore maybe some of these ideas.

Holly: Nan, maybe can add a few of the statistics that are so sobering, but I would say that credential-as-you-go, has a high priority on fairness, on equity in a higher ed system. And Nan’s got the numbers in her head. She talked about it earlier today. So I’ll let her explain why equity is at the top of our list.

Nan: So the numbers are actually quite striking when we look at those with credentials, and then those without credentials, and when we look at those that have been credentialed, around 78% of those with college degrees who are adults are white, and then the balance is divided across different racial and ethnicity groups. And when we start to look at that in terms of the proportion of those groups in our population, it becomes even more striking, because if we just look at the white population, only 33% of the population are white and yet 78% have degrees. So we really have an unequal system here. We also did some analyses that looked within groups to get a sense of, within any one group, where are the proportions falling in terms of people without credentials, some college and no degree and then being college credentialed. The highest proportion of adult learners that have some college and no degree are our black learners. And they are also carrying the highest debt load. At the same time, again, the proportion of those who are white are much higher in terms of college educated. And so we really see that credentialing is a equity issue. And when people are not being recognized for what they know, they’re not able to get the types of employment that they should be getting. And then it becomes an economic downturn cycle. So if you take our black population with having the highest college debt load, and then they’re also the highest percentage with some college and no degree, then they can’t be getting the jobs in order to be paying off the debt and moving their way up. So yet, if they have some college and no degree, they have knowledge that can be credentialed. And so we really feel very strongly that credentialing is an equity issue. And by credentialing learning, as everybody is going through it, more people can be recognized for what they know and can do, and are able to get the jobs that are appropriate for the types of knowledge that they have.

Holly: And many new job areas, I would add, are opening up that require possibly the equivalent of an associate degree, shorter and shorter term credentials around drone technology and sensor technology areas. But if we don’t open up doors and enable folks to enter into those programs, they’re not going to have access to good paying jobs.

John: And in addition to the racial inequities, there are also some fairly significant ones by household income, and also by first-gen and continuing generation status, which is also very highly correlated with the racial gap. So we’re seeing essentially that people who are privileged in society or children from households that have more privilege are likely to acquire more education and see relatively large increases in income, while households who are in the bottom of the income distribution end up falling further and further behind. Because much of the growth in income inequality has been due to the rising skill premium associated with education, and so forth. So this is a really important initiative that can do quite a bit to help clean that up, I think.

Holly: And there’s an important reason as Nan raised is that why the graduate student numbers are growing at community colleges. So they put time and money into developing graduate degrees, baccalaureate degrees, too, and then they can’t find good jobs, because they don’t have a strong enough skill set. So they’re going to go to a community college, potentially, and that’s where they’re going to acquire skills needed in order to enter good jobs. So it’s affecting everybody.

Rebecca: Do you see this as a replacement for traditional college pathways, or an and/or, both, all?

Nan: So when we talk about incremental credentialing, we’re not saying, you know, just the smaller term credentials, what we’re saying is that we need to credential people as they go through their learning. And so some of the credentials are degrees, some are certificates, some are diplomas, and some are microcredentials, some are badges, some are these other kinds of terms that are coming up. But what we really are saying is, let’s not just leave it to only a few ways of being recognized, let’s create a whole array. And so everybody is recognized along the way. But the degrees are part of the system, we’re not planning to replace the degrees, what we want to do is add to the possibilities.

Holly: So we are calling for a transformation of the hiring system that recognizes the changing workplace demands that recognizes the need for equity, and opening up options that actually I like to think about this like going through the drive thru to get a burger. Invariably, I like a single burger. So I asked for the single burger. And usually the person on the other end says, “Well, don’t you want the combo?” And I say, “No, I don’t really want the combo.” But increasingly, I’ve been thinking that the combo in a credentialing metaphor is really powerful because a degree plus two badges plus maybe a certificate is going to maybe serve someone in better stead than the degree alone, or even the two badges alone. There’s a growing number of researchers who as students start acquiring this array of credentials and packing them together, who are trying to understand is there more return on investment for people who get the combo and I will contend that there probably will be, particularly over a lifetime. And that is the kind of system that we’re moving to.

John: So, these additional credentials fill a gap for people who don’t go through the traditional pathways. But can the use of stackable credentials also serve as an entryway into those degree programs for those who may not be able to afford full-time college at some stage of their life?

Nan: Absolutely. And so some of the projects that are in the initiative, they are taking existing degrees and breaking them into smaller credentials that add up. And so that’s one way. And some of the initial research out there, there isn’t much research yet, and this project also has a whole research component to it. But the research is starting to show some tendency of a greater persistence and completion when people are being credentialed in these smaller pieces. And so we are seeing people progressing and going along. So that’s why we hope to be able to document more of that trend. So the framework that we have actually has six different kinds of strategies that really interrelate and the stackable is one of them. But we’re also looking at the incremental credentials, being able to look at skilling and upskilling, specialization, thinking about transfer, thinking about working with employers, and also thinking about what we’re calling retroactively awarding when people already have gained knowledge and skills in courses and being able to credential that. So the idea is some people will still just go through the traditional degree pathway. But what if they also could pick up additional credentials. So just as Holly was saying, there’s the additional that’s the deluxe hamburger, but just in terms of thinking about right now, one thing is that we give people limited choices. But also what if we auto-awarded as people were gaining this so that nobody was going without that, that also means that the incremental credential is also distributed more equally across so that we don’t have some groups getting it and some groups not. But that just everybody picks up as many different credentials as they can. Because the more you can show and demonstrate and have that transparency about your knowledge and skills, the more viable you are for gaining additional employment or upskilling employment and continuing your education further.

Rebecca: Seems to me like a system like this to be fully implemented really requires a lot of change, not just the change in credentialing, the change in how we think about how these credentials are taught, who teaches them, how they’re rewarded, but also maybe how people finance getting these credentials in the first place.

Holly: Yes, all of the above.

Nan: And so we’re seeing some changes in some of the state policies around this as well. For example, in New York, the budget that just passed this last weekend, has some funds for what they call TAP, the Tuition Assistance Program, to be able to be used towards a more workforce focused credentialing, and that’s a new aspect. And Holly, why don’t you talk about the policies that have happened in Colorado?

Holly: Yes, and Colorado recently has provided enabling changes in statute that let the universities offer associate degrees, which previously they couldn’t do. And that gets at that issue I raised when we first started the conversation around reverse transfer associate degrees. What about those students who started at a four-year institution, when they passed the milestone of a learning equivalent to an associate degree can they receive an associate degree? Previously, they could not. They’re at a university and a university doesn’t offer an associate degree, Colorado’s policy now will be permissive, so that the universities that wish to offer the associate degree, and perhaps they’ll call it something else, will recognize that learning and we think that that will be very positive for students. Keep in mind, the majority of students work their way through school, they’re not going full time, by and large. And we think that they’ll find better work, part-time work, full-time work ,while they’re going to school, if they are credentialed well along the way.

Nan: In addition to that, we are seeing other states as well really developing policy around prior learning assessment, around using military credits, finding different ways to enable the adult learner to return to higher education, and recognizing the kinds of knowledge that they already have, which is reducing the cost of their education.

John: Traditional degree programs are often fairly rigid in their structure and that may not meet the needs of employers or the needs of the individuals, and it seems like this system would provide a lot more flexibility for students to create customized paths that are appropriate for their own goals.

Holly: Yes. [LAUGHTER] And the higher ed institutions, the programs are being pushed because of workplace demands to establish stronger partnerships with employers, particularly in their own local areas, in order to improve their programs. And this means weaving in industry awarded certifications, where they may blend well with the curriculum of the degree program, to provide more apprenticeships, more internships, more work and learn, to recognize learning that maybe that part-time person is learning while they’re working. So there’s a tremendous pressure on the faculty in order to make a lot of these changes that would really, truly transform our system into a real learn and work ecosystem.

Rebecca: The Advisory Board for this project is quite large in scope and varied in nature. Can you talk a little bit about how the membership was selected, and really the kind of buy-in that you’re having from this project?

Holly: When we first got going, we talked a lot about the big lift, this will be just to bring awareness to the field about the reasons for this kind of transformative change, essentially. And so we knew we would need to work with influencers. And we would need to cast the net broadly. So we decided, as difficult as it is to set up a large advisory board, that we should go large. And we now have 114 members, and frankly, we’re in the process of trying to invite maybe another 15 or 20. And what we did was establish the stakeholder groups that make up the learn and work ecosystem, so we could guide who we would select to join the advisory board. And we came up with about a dozen stakeholder groups in the broader learn and work ecosystem. There are the accrediting and the standards organizations, there’s industry, the data and learning management industry, the foundations, the philanthropy group, the government and quasi-governmental groups, the higher ed institutions, international organizations that because much of this activity is going on internationally, not only in the US. So when we came up with this dozen or so group, we thought, okay, who fits into those, and we sent out invitations, and we explained what we were all about. We didn’t know what the response would be. And I don’t think there was anybody that turned us down. And we were surprised by this and [LAUGHTER] gratified by this. So we have a large group and it is growing, we meet regularly to seek guidance from the advisory. We have some workgroups going, and this group is going to be very important as this continues in the future, to build awareness for and to help us influence many types of groups about the importance of this work.

Nan: The other thing to note here is, and Holly mentioned that we have workgroups by having a larger board, we are able to break into workgroups and take on some of these critical issues, and really start to think through them in a more detailed way. But on top of that, our advisory board meetings are not where we just asked them: “What do you think about this?” But we’ve actually been bringing in and having discussions around key issues, things like technology. Today, we actually had one where we had the three states that are in the project, there’s 21 institutions across the three states that are part of this. And they were showcasing the kinds of things that are going on and really talking about just the whole credentialing space within those institutions. So there are ways that we’re using the Advisory Board as really a think tank and really helping us move this forward. And as a result, we are also engaging some of the advisory board members to write and to be speaking on this and really helping us create a whole national campaign and movement around this credential as you go.

John: Rebecca mentioned the size of the advisory board, but they’re also people with some really impressive credentials from a wide variety of stakeholders. It’s a very impressive Advisory Board. We can share a link to that in the show notes.

Holly: When we were developing the short bios, along with the photos that exist at our website that describes who was on board, we told them that they would have a 100-word limit and no degrees, no degrees and institutions where you graduated from on the list .We wanted to focus on what experiences do you have that you bring to the table? And that was a little new way of thinking about your bio, and folks really resonated well to that.

John: …ties in very nicely with the project as well.

Holly: Yes, exactly.

John: This is a really ambitious project that’s clearly taking a lot of time and effort on your part and the part of many people. Why is it so important that this work be done right now?

Nan: I feel that this is really important. We mentioned equity, but it’s really a social justice piece. We’re talking about: how do we recognize people for what they know and can do in a formal way that can be recognized across the country or across the world? And when we think about that number of people… 36 to 40 million adults in this country have some college and no degree, we have to recognize that the current system, which is an old, old system… it’s an ancient system…isn’t helping the society move forward. It helps some, but not everybody. And so this is a really important concept to really start to be able to recognize people and to help them move forward with employment and further education.

Holly: And I’d like to address the question of scale. Often, when people talk about innovation, there are the pioneers out there that are building gardens of innovation all around the country, there’s a tremendous amount of excellent work that’s going on at institutions everywhere, and in many of the states to set policy that will enable more innovative approaches. But if you look at all the institutions, I would argue that the innovation is still a drop in the bucket in that, to really transform the higher ed system, we’re gonna have to go to great scale. And so right now we have three states that are prototyping, we have a fourth state that has asked whether or not they can look over our shoulder for a year and plan for how they could become involved in credential-as-you-go, and we think there will be some others that will do that as well in the next couple of years. But, we’re going to be facing a massive issue around scale, how to move from those gardens of innovation around the country to major transformation. And that’s where the national campaign is going to grow in importance. We’re going to need to have resources available for folks that probably will not be in an individual grant project, there isn’t going to be enough money on the table for everybody in the US to join the credentials-as-you-go initiative. So we’re talking about developing the best resources we can put together to enable those who are interested in the concept to want to try to do this on their own, so that we could give them playbooks of what does it take to do this work, explain why it’s so important, give them examples of the kinds of incremental credentials that are being developed by discipline, by undergraduate, by graduate level, by types of institutions, so they can get a range of efforts that are underway, and to put together and employ the policies that the states particularly are passing in order to enable this. So we’re in the middle of discussions about scale, how quickly can we get to bigger scale than really the current initiative. And so I feel like that is something that we’re going to be contending with literally in the next couple of years.

Nan: One other thing that I’d like to bring up, and it relates to the size of our advisory board, we can’t do this alone, it’s not just our project that’s going to make a difference. There are a lot of initiatives that are happening right now in higher education, and also in the employment world, where all of these initiatives are moving the needle a little bit, but everybody is wanting to see change. And so we’re finding right now, the time out there is such that as we’re talking with faculty, when we’re talking with institutions, we’re hearing people say, “Yes…” we’re not hearing like, “Oh, no way.” But we also are building on work they’re already doing, we are connecting. We’re thinking of ourselves as real connectors. And so thinking about the different kinds of initiatives, we see this all being in that learn and work ecosystem space, and that it’s important to really bring everybody together and look at this in terms of where do we go? What is this going to look like five years from now? 10 years from now, 50 years from now? How do we start to really think about the role of higher education in the evolving world?

Rebecca: I think when you’re talking about scope and vision, we can see where we want to be, where we’re headed in the vision that you guys are sharing as part of the project. What are some of the next deliverables your team has planned [LAUGHTER] to incrementally get us there?

Holly: Those are some of the deliverables: to use our advisory board, use the developments in the three states and some others, to pull together some best examples so that we can make them available. We’re talking about assembling a digital learner-work ecosystem library, that would be a wiki model, where we could identify what a lot of these terms mean, identify the networks and partnerships that are working in these spaces, in the broad arena of the learner-work ecosystem, and then identify what are the key initiatives that people who are having to build these highways can learn from. So we have a tremendous lift around developing materials and resources that will help the whole field to understand this better. And keep in mind the stakeholder groups that I mentioned, the 12 or so… policymakers don’t really understand this world so well, because it’s so rapidly changing. Employers are being besieged by candidates showing up with: “Well, I’ve got a badge here and a certificate of this and something of a degree…” and the employer doesn’t know what this means and they’re coming from different institutions. So we have got to help to make this world more understandable. And I would say those are some of the deliverables. We’ll have real examples,we’ll demonstrate what can be done. The research component of credential-as-you-go is very robust, and it will help determine whether or not the framework that Nan’s team in New York developed for pilot testing holds up and can help institutions in order to design a better curriculum. And whether or not it ends up being fairer for all. We need answers to those questions. So these are the deliverables that we have in mind for the next few years.

John: So we always end with the question, “What’s next?” Which is something you’ve already been addressing a little bit, but we’ll leave that open.

Nan: One thing that we haven’t really talked much about, but we do have a US Department of Education Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) grant that is funding some of this work. And in the grant, specifically, we are working with three states, 21 institutions, and by August 2024, we’ll have a minimum of 90 new incremental credentials that are part of what we’re looking at. It is a research grant. And so as Holly has already mentioned, we have extensive research that we are doing. It’s got two priorities, one is looking at the feasibility. What does this really mean? How do we really see that this works? …and the other is looking at student outcomes. And so we have a whole comparative analysis piece that is looking at student outcomes. And then the third leg of the grant is looking at this national campaign: How do we really help people with the messaging, helping all the stakeholders really understand what this is about and the value of it? And as a result, we’re building out a website that will house a lot of tools and resources that will be available for people to use. The research will be there, a lot of messaging, all different kinds of things that we’re building out. So those are some of the immediate things. But then what comes after that is, we see this in a couple of different ways. One is adding on more states. And we even in the grant, develop some strategies to, by the third year of the grant, be able to start really helping others come along. And so when Holly mentioned the playbook, that’s one of the ideas that we’re developing, we’re already developing the resources to go in that. But how do we leave kind of the footprint in such a way that others can just come along… that we don’t have to have more grants that this becomes really normalized. That’s really what we’re seeking is that this is just the normal way we do business. And so adding on more people, taking the results of some of the work. So as Holly mentioned, doing this inventory of policies, we really want to be able to then have some strategies for different states to be thinking about policies, looking at state systems, what are the things that need to be in place there, what are the things that need to be in place as an institution, so sort of the next level of goals is really to see about how to help scale this up, but in ways that can be adopted independent of a lot of support and help. I always kind of laugh about that, this kind of work is you’re working really hard to put yourself out of business. We’re not in this to be hand holding lots of institutions and systems and states, but rather, really providing the resources and tools that are needed to expand the work across the country.

Holly: And so, I just think of two elements in the next steps. We’re in the proof of concept now. And I think we’re heading to go big. And we will need 1000s of trains steaming across the nation bringing these kinds of transformations to their systems, along with all of their different stakeholders. And I’m optimistic… I tend to be an optimistic person. It’s not going to happen overnight. But a lot of this is underway. And this is the time coming out hopefully of COVID, all these workforce changes going on, students waking up that this is a very complicated system we’re all living in and that we need to be skilling up for our whole lifetime. These trains have converged and we think that we’re going to be going towards scale very soon. And that’s, in my mind, what’s next.

Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for sharing some interesting ideas for all of us to consider and hopefully act on.

John: And thank you for all your valuable work on this project. It can make a huge difference.


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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.