Colleges Use Badges to Jump on Alternative Certification Bandwagon

Posted By Eliana Osborn on August 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm
Colleges Use Badges to Jump on Alternative Certification Bandwagon

Transcripts show college classes, credits and grades. A college degree – the most valuable piece of paper no one ever looks at – proves your accomplishment. But what about someone’s actual skills and accomplishments? What if there were visuals on a resume that could better display a person’s skills and credentials? The tech industry has been playing with this idea for a while and now colleges are getting on board.

Digital badges, as these credentials or certifications are called, are outside the degree process. Awarding a degree is a highly regimented system involved in a college’s accreditation. Badges are different: which is to say unregulated. The concept has been widespread for about five years since the MacArthur Foundation got behind 30 higher education programs to help them develop digital portfolios and badges that could be displayed on various platforms.

The key to badges is the system or company behind them, essentially who is saying what they means. Similar to a diploma or degree, a badge from certain places means little. The big brands in badges might mean little to the general public, but in industry, being backed up by Pearson Acclaim or Mozilla means there is a framework behind the badge.

For students, benefits to badges or unbundled skills are clear. People aren’t bound to one institution from start to finish in an educational career. A 10-week MOOC can give someone a certificate and badge that can go on a resume immediately; a 12-month series of courses in person can do the same thing.

Alternative certification and the changing college landscape

As colleges and universities have come to accept the inevitability of a changing educational landscape, they’ve embraced badges, too. Community and technical colleges are the most involved in badging with their focus on employability. Anything that makes students stand out in the hiring process, such as a visual signal that they have the skills a company is looking for, is a positive. The Foundation for California Community Colleges uses LaunchPath badges where students can show internships, workplace skills, and academic pathways.

UPCEA is a 400-member higher-education association. In partnership with Pearson, it surveyed 190 schools about alternative credentialing. These institutions ranged widely, including 11% community colleges, 50% universities granting doctoral degrees, and 61% publicly funded. Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials found that 20% of institutions offer digital badges. Badges or other alternative certification tools were predominately offered in business-related fields. Fully 94% of schools offer some kind of alternative credential, which was more likely at schools with corporate engagement.

The UPCEA report explains, “Non-credit training courses, non-credit certificate programs, and micro-credentialing all provide learners with less expensive and faster alternatives to traditional degree programs. Degree holders now acquire professional licenses, education certificates and other alternative credentials from a myriad of providers, including their professional associations and online programs as well as traditional higher education institutions.

What was previously thought of as cutting edge is now becoming mainstream. A 2014 study by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that 30% of the adult population holds an alternative credential.” No wonder 64% of schools say alternative certification credentials are an important part of their planning for the future.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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