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IES Grant

Title: Credential As You Go: Transforming the Credentialing System of the U.S.
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Travers, Nan Awardee: State University of New York (SUNY), Empire State College
Program: Transformative Research in the Education Sciences Grants Program      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (09/01/2021 - 08/31/2024) Award Amount: $2,999,998.13
Type: Exploration and Development Award Number: R305T210063

Co-Principal Investigators: Good, Larry; Zanville, Holly

Purpose: The purpose of the national Credential As You Go initiative is to develop a recognized incremental credentialing system as a systemic, structural transformation to the U.S. postsecondary education system. The long-term objective of this new credentialing system is to improve academic and labor market outcomes for students. This project team will implement, revise, and assess the promise of the Incremental Credentialing (IC) Framework first developed in 2020. The IC Framework is a blueprint for colleges, universities, and higher education systems to develop and implement incremental credentials in a strategic manner. The IC Framework's five types of incremental credentials are ready for large-scale testing, revision, and dissemination.

Incremental credentialing is a significant, critically needed next step to build a fairer 21st Century learn-and-work ecosystem. For many learners, the only postsecondary credentials that count are four tiers of degrees (associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate). This focus on degrees hinders those who attend college but do not complete a traditional degree, often treating them as if they have no postsecondary-level learning. This project team will establish a basis for future efficacy testing and scale-up of incremental credentialing to support the systematic structural transformation to a legacy degree system that no longer adequately serves the needs of learners and employers.

Project Activities: This project includes development, exploration, research, and dissemination activities. The project team will couple research and development with extended rapid prototyping of incremental credentials using the IC Framework at institutions within the State University of New York, University of North Carolina System, North Carolina Community College System, Colorado Community College System and Colorado Department of Higher Education. This research will support twin priorities, informing ongoing development (rapid prototyping) of the IC Framework through collection of evidence of its feasibility, while analyzing quantitative student academic and perception data from pilot institutions to assess its promise for generating the intended beneficial learner outcomes. The exploration research will apply a mixed design that combines qualitative analysis of interview and focus group data with a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) design applied to large-scale administrative databases maintained by the participating states.

Results will inform how best to refine and disseminate the IC Framework and implementation policies and processes for widespread adoption and systemic change to improve access to, persistence in, progress through, and successful completion of postsecondary education for all learners including members of various racial/ethnic groups, underserved populations, and age categories, and learners that enter college with various levels of prior academic achievement. Dissemination will occur through a national campaign to build national awareness of and support for restructuring the U.S. postsecondary education credentialing system.

SUNY will lead a collaborative management team in partnership with the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, and the George Washington University Program on Skills, Credentials & Workforce Policy. The management team will coordinate with System-level Steering Committees and Institutional Academic Teams that bring expertise in credentialing and curricular reform, transformative change, state and institutional policy, workforce development, and quality assurance. A 100+-member national advisory board representing postsecondary institutions and systems, industry, military, accreditors, philanthropy, and think tanks will advise the project.

Products: The project team will implement 90 incremental credentials at the undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education levels at institutions across three states. The team will generate exploratory findings on the promise of incremental credentials for improving student access to, persistence in, and completion of postsecondary credentials. The team will generate the following products: a revised IC Framework for dissemination to other institutions interested in implementing incremental credentials; policy change recommendations that demonstrate the type/level of change required in regulatory systems to facilitate incremental credentialing systems at postsecondary institutions; and a host of print, digital, and social media products as part of a national communication campaign to share scalable strategies for systemic change in postsecondary credentialing.