Within higher education—and beyond—there is tremendous and growing interest in innovation in educational credentialing. In the job market, educational credentials are more valuable than ever, and new microcredential offerings are diversifying a landscape long dominated by traditional degrees. Online education is the fastest growing segment of the higher education market, with more learners pursuing online credentials, and employers increasingly recognizing online delivery as mainstream. The continuing focus on employability in higher education is also bringing the world of workforce-oriented and “alternative” credentials much closer to higher education. In addition, the steady flow of venture capital and other investment into innovative educational technologies is paving the way for a new infrastructure for delivering, documenting, and sharing credentials and the skills and competencies embedded in them.
Many of these innovations are being led by UPCEA members. Given the timeliness of this topic, it has been a privilege to help in the curation of the articles for this special focus inside this issue of Unbound. The articles in this special section are built upon the first-hand experiences of universities; the voices of employers; and the perspectives of innovators, as well as being grounded in hard data and reflection on practice.
Stephen Pelletier provides an in-depth, inside look at the growth of Georgia Tech’s MOOC-based degrees, arguably one of the most significant areas of experimentation in higher education worldwide, as well as other large-scale initiatives. New York University’s School of Professional Studies has innovated in the development of a new credential construct, the “diploma,” which has become an integral part of their new professional pathways, as analyzed by Paola Curcio-Kleinman. This special topic focus includes an interview with Jonathan Finkelstein, the founder and CEO of Credly, a leader in digital credentialing technology. The growth of corporate badging and credentialing to close the skills gap in the job market is explored by Allyson Welch. In my own contribution, we share the results from a unique national survey of employers related to their perceptions of online and new types of credentials. In addition, David Schejbal provides a candid analysis of the lessons learned from creating The University Learning Store, a pioneering but ultimately failed effort involving multiple institutions.
It is our hope that you find this nuanced special section insightful and actionable, and we greatly appreciate the contributions of the authors.
Sean R. Gallagher is Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy, and executive professor of education policy. He has been involved in the UPCEA community since 2002.