“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” —Benjamin Franklin
From the gold standard to the floating exchange rate
The world of credentialing is evolving. Degrees have long been considered the basic unit of educational currency. But it appears that we’re experiencing an accelerating shift away from the gold standard of degrees and toward a more inclusive credentialing world that embraces badges, microcredentials and nanodegrees and is based on a market-driven floating exchange rate.
For the last decade we’ve lived through increasing degree inflation, watching jobs that previously required only a high school diploma become jobs that require not just an Associate’s degree but a Bachelor’s degree. In extreme forms of degree inflation some of those same jobs now require a Master’s degree or a Doctorate, or even post-doctoral work. What has happened to make this necessary? Have jobs changed that much in the intervening years? Is the world exponentially more complex? Could it be the degree itself causing these problems? My response to that last question is yes.
if u cn rd ths…
Our dependence on degrees as the primary means by which we collectively judge what someone knows and can do has effectively turned degrees into social and cultural shorthand. An unfortunate and increasingly inaccurate shorthand. An interpretive shorthand that attempts to speak to an individual’s qualifications well beyond what formal education currently provides, and one that gives informational short shrift to all stakeholders, perhaps most disappointingly, to the learners themselves. Why must the degree be so opaque? What does a transcript tell the student of their accomplishments other than the grades they received in a prescribed pathway? How does a course grade correlate to an amorphous future job? Is an A equal to a Job Grade Level V review?
Coke vs. Pepsi (or the problem with big educational brands)
Brand recognition should not be the calling card that gets most people in the workplace or college door. But it is. Ultimately, that’s primarily what our credentialing system has reified: brand. And not the brand value of the exiting learner—no, that would most likely be an incredibly useful metric. Instead the shorthand / reification focuses on the brand of the credential-issuing institution. Thankfully we’ve begun to see a questioning of this confused metric from both industry (EY + Penguin Random House as noted in Cracking the Credentialing Club) and through calls for research into college and university success rates in the somewhat de-fanged College Scorecard. These credential tremors are indicative of a larger and maybe-not-impending-but-already-happening tectonic shift occurring in education, learning, credentialing, and assessment.
Evolve or Die
I suggest that there is an implicit choice currently available to the credentialing world: evolve or die. You’ll note that this is the same choice that confronts every living thing and it affects both the small no-name brand and the very large, multinational brand. Academic and business systems are living things and must evolve in order to stay useful and relevant. The popular and useful thing of yesteryear may fade quickly into obscurity—and you don’t want to be the flightless bird in this story.
Consequently, we need to ask what we think we’re expressing when we hand out degrees and certificates. What is missing? What opportunities do new credentials like open badges offer? What are we hoping to effect and why? These questions must always acknowledge that context and audience are essential components of any answer. Because the credentialing environment is not composed solely of monolithic, faceless institutions struggling to survive, but rather thoughtful, circumspect individuals making hard choices about the potential, cost, and value of credentials in their own personal evolution.
Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com