Certification-Degree Pathways: Aligning Undergraduate Curriculum to Industry Credentials and Professions

Certification-Degree Pathways: Aligning Undergraduate Curriculum to Industry Credentials and Professions

Julie Uranis (University Professional Continuing Education Association, USA), Andréa Rodriguez (Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, USA & Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, USA), Isabel Cardenas-Navia (Workcred, USA), Karen Elzey (Workcred, USA) and Janet Forte (Workcred, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3820-3.ch001
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Abstract

Degrees from colleges and universities have historically been prerequisites for many good paying jobs. While the value of college degrees has recently been questioned by the American public, legislators, and employers, college is still viewed as an important component to the growth and socialization of learners destined to become future employees. Because they offer industry-recognized credentials, certification bodies already have a foothold in the siloed worlds of work and education and may provide an avenue to address the known gaps between employers and educational institutions. By leveraging their ability to identify the needs of employers as well as assessing knowledge and skills, certification bodies may play an important role in developing new opportunities for learners. Therefore, a pathway offering learners the ability to earn a certification while earning their degree provides individuals the ability to showcase a broad base of knowledge as well as work-relevant skills.
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Introduction

Equipping students with the information and experiences needed to navigate the labor market and avoid underemployment remains a challenge (Vedder, Denhart, & Robe, 2013), especially in the wake of the 2020-2021 global COVID-19 pandemic. One way to address this need is to provide opportunities for students to graduate college with clearly articulated credentials that signal the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) they possess. Certifications can complement the opaque evidence of learning provided by post-secondary institutions in the form of transcripts and diplomas (Cutler, 2021). In addition, through collaboration and combining different types of credentials, learners can provide employers with a more comprehensive view of their employability.

Post-secondary institutions are not necessarily known for accepting or offering non-degree credentials like certifications within pathways towards degrees, yet integrated and more comprehensive pathways would offer students more opportunities to obtain specific, proven competencies sought by employers. Beyond articulating the skills mastered by learners, such pathways would support lifelong learning and create opportunities for learners to stack credentials in new ways and meet their career goals. Further, by having their skills assessed by a third party in the certification process, student learning would be validated, which might address the concerns of those who question the value of a post-secondary degree (Pettit, 2018). Further, by participating in certification-degree pathways, learners obtain both the broad-based skills acquired in a baccalaureate program with the technical skills demonstrated by obtaining a certification. This chapter will highlight the challenges and opportunities of embedding certifications in degree programs.

Expectations vs. Reality

In 2013, Gallup surveyed 623 U.S. business leaders on behalf of Lumina Foundation and discovered that only 11 percent strongly agree that post-secondary institutions prepared students with the skills and competencies for their business needs. Yet less than 30 percent of the respondents collaborated with higher education institutions on curriculum (Gallup, 2014). Conversely, Inside Higher Ed’s Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers conducted around the same timeframe yielded dramatically different results. Overwhelmingly, provosts (96 percent) felt their institution was doing a good job preparing students for the world of work (Jaschik & Lederman, 2014). While this disconnect could be attributed to the absence of a working relationship between business leaders and institutions, this problem seems to have an easy solution – create opportunities for leaders from industry and higher education to collaborate on educational programs and pathways that benefit learners. This seems like a simple and easily achievable solution. But if the solution is that easy, why has it not happened yet, and why does the divide persist? One answer may be that higher education and industry are too siloed, lacking a common language and a failure to understand the other’s respective domains.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Professional/Terminal degrees: Terminal degrees, or commonly referred to as professional or doctoral degrees, are the highest award a student can earn for graduate study. Includes such degrees as the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.); the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.); the Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.); and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in any field (Hussar et al., 2020 AU45: The in-text citation "Hussar et al., 2020" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Job Task Analysis: A job task analysis (JTA) is study of a job, portion of a job, or concept job to identify the tasks and associated knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required to competently perform the job ( Woodley, 2015 ).

Certificate: Certificates are generally associated with training or educational courses and usually do not have a time limit or renewal requirement and cannot be revoked for reasons of incompetence or unethical behavior (Workcred, 2018 AU40: The in-text citation "Workcred, 2018" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Licenses: Licenses are credentials that permit the holder to practice in a specified field or occupation. An occupational license can only be awarded by a government licensing agency based on a set of criteria (Workcred, 2018 AU43: The in-text citation "Workcred, 2018" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Certification: Certifications are attestations of their holders’ ability to perform a set of skills relevant to a professional setting. They are awarded and tracked by certification issuers––typically nonprofit organizations, professional associations, industry or trade organizations, or employers. High-quality certifications are based on a third-party standardized assessment, time-limited, renewable, and can be revoked for incompetence or unethical behavior (Workcred, 2018 AU41: The in-text citation "Workcred, 2018" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Master’s Degree: A master’s degree is awarded for successful completion of a program generally requiring one or two years of full-time college-level study beyond the bachelor’s degree (Hussar et al., 2020 AU44: The in-text citation "Hussar et al., 2020" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Accreditation for Personnel Credentials: Recognition that the credential is evaluated by a third party against a set of national or international standards.

Bachelor’s Degree: A baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree is awarded for the successful completion of a baccalaureate program of studies, usually requiring at least four years (or equivalent) of full-time college-level study (Hussar et al., 2020 AU39: The in-text citation "Hussar et al., 2020" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Nontraditional: A nontraditional student may have one or more of the characteristics that may be barriers or impede their enrollment in higher education institutions or lengthen their time to a degree. These characteristics may include having a gap between high school completion and college enrollment, enrolling part-time enrollment, being financially independent, working full-time while enrolled in higher education, having dependents, being a single parent, or not earning a standard high school diploma ( Horn & Carroll, 1996 ).

Psychometrician: A psychometrician is an expert in test and measurement. In relationship to certifications, they are responsible for ensuring the validity, reliability, and fairness of an assessment.

Associate Degree: An associate degree is granted for the successful completion of a sub-baccalaureate program of studies, usually requiring at least two years (or equivalent) of full-time college-level study (Hussar et al., 2020 AU38: The in-text citation "Hussar et al., 2020" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Degree-Granting Institutions: Post-secondary institutions that are eligible for Title IV federal financial aid programs and grant an associate or higher degree. For an institution to be eligible to participate in Title IV financial aid programs it must offer a program of at least 300 clock hours in length, have accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, have been in business for at least two years, and have signed a participation agreement with the Department (NCES, n.d. AU42: The in-text citation "NCES, n.d." is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

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