2 Projects That Promote Alternative Credentials Reach Key Milestones

September 19, 2016

The New Education Landscape

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Re:Learning project provides stories and analysis about this changing moment for learning.

Two projects aimed to expand the use and usefulness of badges and other alternative credentials, to help people communicate their skills to potential employers, marked key milestones on Monday.

The bigger of the two is the "credentials registry," an effort to create an open, searchable, online system that categorizes and organizes the current maze of credentials, certificates, degrees, and licenses that students and workers now obtain. Announced more than a year ago, the registry is intended to be a tool for students, job seekers, and employers to determine what skills and credentials are needed for particular jobs and careers.

Its developers, who have created a prototype of the registry, gave the first public demonstration of the tool at an event on Monday at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C., to an audience of more than 400 people watching in person or via streaming video.

Organizers of the project, which is backed by the Lumina Foundation, also announced the creation of a new nonprofit group, Credential Engine, "to improve transparency in the credentialing marketplace." The group will oversee the further development of the searchable registry and promote the use of a common language and open technical tools for use with it.

The registry is designed to list all credentials submitted and does not rank them or vet the information provided.

"That’s not our role," said Jeanne Kitchens, co-director of the Credential Transparency Initiative and associate director of the Center for Workforce Development at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, who demonstrated the registry on Monday.

Several attendees questioned that missing link, noting that it could actually create more confusion for users, not less.

"How would ITT show up on the registry?" asked Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, referring to the for-profit college company that just shut down amid growing government scrutiny.

Privately, several also noted that the approach would make it easy for fly-by-night organizations to list themselves and their credentials on the site.

But Robert Sheets, another co-director of the effort and a research professor at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy, said while the site itself wouldn’t make judgments, it could accommodate them.

For example, employers could "endorse a credential," he said.

Also on Monday, the Education Design Lab announced that six additional colleges would be joining its 21st Century Skills Badging Challenge, a project that is creating models for nonacademic credentials to recognize students for skills, such as "oral communication" and "cross-cultural competency," that employers say are too often lacking in recent college graduates.

Over the past year, the design lab, a nonprofit consulting organization, has worked with Georgetown and George Mason Universities to create badges. Georgetown created a badge for "a catalyst"; George Mason is developing a badge to recognize "resilience."

Now, with its new partners — Bay Path University and Vassar College, the Universities of Arizona and Virginia, and two foreign institutions whose names have not yet been made public — the design lab plans to expand its suite of model badges. Faculty members and about 40 students from each participating institution will identify the skills and criteria needed for the badges and will determine the kinds of rigorous assessments that would be used to decide whether students ultimately earn them.

The goal of the project is two pronged. We’re looking for currency in the hiring market," says Kathleen deLaski, founder of the design lab. The project developers also hope that other colleges will either adopt the badges, assessments and all, or at least learn from the approach the institutions are using.

Goldie Blumenstyk writes about the intersection of business and higher education. Check out for information on her new book about the higher-education crisis; follow her on Twitter @GoldieStandard; or email her at

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