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Two New Papers Explore Benefits of Improved Postsecondary Credentialing, Effective Communication of Competencies

February 24, 2016


​Two white papers being released Thursday at an ACE convening find that improving the higher education credentialing system and better communicating the value of competencies offer significant benefits to students and employers.

The papers, Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials and Communicating the Value of Competencies, will be discussed from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at the free event, “Connected Credentials and Competencies: New Insights,” at ACE’s offices in Washington, DC, and also can be watched via live webstream.

The two interconnected projects, with contributions from numerous experts and Deborah Everhart, Georgetown University, serving as the lead author of both papers, address fundamental concerns regarding:

  1. How employers value and assess students’ competencies.
  2. The quality dimensions of connected credentials (transparency, modularity, portability, relevance, validity and equity) that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders. 
  3. How educational institutions can improve their credentials and clearly articulate competencies.

“The diversity of credentials is not always meeting the needs of students, educational institutions, and employers, and unfortunately the proliferation of credentials is causing confusion,” states the Connected Credentials paper. “There is a lack of shared understanding about what makes credentials valuable, how that value varies across different types of credentials for different stakeholders, what constitutes quality, and how credentials are connected to each other and to opportunities for the people who have earned them.”

Because approaches to improving quality will differ across diverse postsecondary systems, the credentials paper offers a range of ideas, including:

  • Create a working group with local higher education institutions to review and implement connected credentials among traditional partners.
  • Analyze how a credential at your institution can connect to a different type of credential that your institution does not provide, such as a license or certification.
  • Form new or strengthen existing partnerships with employers.

The second paper examines the significant benefits of improving credentials to include effective communication of competencies—what students know and can do with that knowledge.

“Employers need to understand the competencies of applicants in order to make appropriate hiring and promotion decisions, thereby increasing the value and effectiveness of their organizations,” says the Value of Competencies paper. “Higher education institutions need to articulate the competencies represented in their credentials in order to demonstrate the specific relevance, applicability, and value of these credentials for helping students achieve their goals.”

The competencies paper also offers a range of ideas that different institutions can approach in ways that make sense for their students and missions, including:

  • Examine your institution’s programs in terms of the competencies they include. 
  • Work with career services at your institution to help students include their specific competencies in their resumes, cover letters, and online profiles. 
  • Organize a summit on the value of competencies with local stakeholders, including employers and industry organizations.

Thursday’s meeting will include an overview of the research and a panel discussion with leading experts on these topics, including: Deborah Seymour, ACE’s chief academic innovation officer; Deb Bushway, former senior policy advisor to the undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education; and Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at University of Maryland University College. ACE President Molly Corbett Broad will provide opening remarks.

The convening and papers are part of ACE’s Alternative Credit Project, which seeks to encourage greater acceptance of alternative credits and create a more flexible postsecondary education attainment pathway for the more than 32 million nontraditional students who may have some college credit but no degree. 

The initiative, conducted by ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, is made possible through a $1.89 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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