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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Higher ed's future: Microcredentials?

Microcredentials, which certify completion of short-term training in marketable skills, are the "new new thing in higher education," writes Rick Hess. "Some of the more popular and useful ones cover discrete expertise in high-demand fields like IT support, data analytics, and cybersecurity." Are they a fad or the real deal?

Cybersecurity is a popular microcredential.

Traditional credentials and degrees may not guarantee mastery of "essential skills and knowledge," Hess writes. "Employers wind up sorting through applicants who’ve spent years pursuing costly degrees of uncertain content, even when all hiring managers really seek is a particular skill set."

Microcredentials could be a quick, cost-effective way to prove employability -- if they're based on competence, he writes. But doing microcredentialing well is difficult.

Currently, many microcredentials are just short, week-long courses with "no assurance that students have mastered the content" or that employers will respect the credential.

Hess thinks microcredentials will be "a big part of any attempt to rethink higher education and workforce training." Eventually.

It depends on whether there are clear standards as to what constitutes essential skills or knowledge in a given course.
It depends on whether course assessments are rigorous, valid, and reliable.
It depends on whether the credentials get politicized or distorted by academic fashion.
It depends on whether courses are focused, cost-effective, and marketable, or just a new way for colleges or tech firms to make a buck.

Hess fears "microcredentialing risks being captured by colleges or tech vendors and turned into a cash cow or a forum for silliness (or both)." The State University of New York (SUNY) has a vast list of microcredentials that ranges from “Fundamentals of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Sense of Belonging (DEIS) for Leaders” and “Feminism and Visual Literacy” to the more work-relevant “Programming with Python” and “Microsoft Office Expert.”

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