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How Can Colleges and Universities Answer the Call for Skills-Based Learning?

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Across the country, colleges and universities are seeing an increased demand for academic programs that are flexible, accessible, and short in duration. These requests aren’t only coming from students; they are coming from businesses as well. In fact, many larger companies like Google and IBM have begun creating their own credentials and skills-based certificate programs to upskill their workforce. Higher education institutions looking to answer the call for skills-based learning may want to consider what it would take to implement these types of programs on campus.  

The problem with offering skills-based learning programs—which often take the form of alternative credentials and competency-based education (CBE) programs—is that students have vastly different needs when it comes to learning skills. Some need to learn new skills from the ground up, while others have some basis of knowledge but require further education to advance in their careers.  

Below we examine steps that institutions can take to get these types of programs up and running. 

1. Understand What Offering a Alternative Credentials and CBE Programs Entail

Industries across the country are experiencing the same phenomenon: An older generation of workers are leaving the workforce and there aren’t enough skilled employees to take over. Increasingly, colleges and universities are experiencing outreach from industries who want to partner with institutions to help train new employees and upskill workers. Creating alternative credentials and CBE programs can be incredibly effective in accomplishing this.  

Traditionally, a typical college semester is 16 weeks in length, and courses are grade-based and evaluated on final tests, papers, participation, and attendance. This type of program might work well for traditional-aged students, but it can be a hinderance for older students, or those who are working full time.  

Conversely, CBE programs (and many other alternative credential paths) are most likely skills-based and more flexible in nature. Alternative credentials like certificates or micro-credentials are short in duration and are often offered in online or hybrid form. Competency-based education programs are often tailored to the specific needs of an industry. They are self-paced and allow students to advance through courses based on their ability to prove competency or mastery of a skill.  

2. Get Buy-In From Departments Across Campus

Implementing alternative credentials and CBE programs can be disruptive in nature, as these programs require colleges and universities to look at course delivery and outcomes in a different way. Institutions need buy-in from departments across campus. Academic affairs, financial aid, IT, and student services staff need to be present at the table so that institutions can lay out timelines that will help speed up program delivery. Institutions also need faculty members who are willing to dive in and learn the material necessary to facilitate these courses 

3. Get Certified by an Accrediting Body

For colleges and universities to offer alternative credential programs, they need these programs approved by their accrediting body. This means ensuring that programs contained the components and elements of good practice as outlined by the accreditor. 

For example, colleges and universities that want to offer financial aid to students seeking a CBE certificate need to get approval from their regional accrediting body, and they need to file for approval with the U.S. Department of Education.  

4. Have the Right Technology

Offering alternative credentials and CBE programs without the right technology can be incredibly challenging, if not impossible. For example, CBE programs by nature are flexible, which means institutions need technology that enables hybrid learning, open entry, and early exit. Institutions also need technology that allows them to define and configure competencies so students can advance as soon as they master content.  

Decision-makers should also consider how they can simplify the process of enrolling in these types of courses. The enrollment process can be lengthy and complicated, and many students interested in alternative credentials and CBE programs aren’t interested in enrolling in the college full time. Institutions that plan on running these types of programs alongside more traditional academic programs should invest in technology that allows them to offer courses to unenrolled learners, giving these learners the means to easily sign up for and pay for courses. 

As the job market evolves and student expectations for higher education change, institutions may consider looking to alternative credentials and CBE programs as a way to attract non-traditional learners. While there are general best practices for how to implement these types of programs, each institution’s needs and learner demographics will dictate how decision-makers should go about launching these initiatives on campus; there is no one-size-fits-all approach for deploying alternative credentials and CBE programs.  

For more information on how institutions are answering the call for skills-based learning in their communities, you can watch our full webinar here.  

WBR- Alternative Credentials and CBE Programs

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