Interview with Sean Gallagher, founder and Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and Executive Professor of Educational Policy. Gallagher wrote The Future of University Credentials: New Developments at the Intersection of Higher Education and Hiring, which was awarded the 2017 Phillip E. Frandson Award for Literature in the Field of Professional, Continuing, and/or Online Education.

Gallagher joined Northeastern in 2009 and is a nationally recognized expert with over 15 years of experience in higher education—including his time building and leading Northeastern’s central strategy function, which drove the innovative launch of new campuses and professional degree programs. Prior to Northeastern, Sean worked for nearly 10 years as a manager and analyst at research firm Eduventures. Sean holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree from Northeastern University; an M.B.A. from the New York Institute of Technology; and a B.S. in Marketing from Northeastern. Sean also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of Bay State College.

The following clips are from an interview with Gallagher that took place at Northeastern University.


What inspired the book The Future of University Credentials?

Recent years have brought about a flurry of innovation in credentials. Gallagher discusses how he was drawn to gather data from employers and hiring managers, asking them how credentials were used in the hiring process.

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Why does a college degree still hold considerable value in the marketplace?

While the value of a college degree has been widely questioned in recent years, Gallagher found that employers still treat it as an important credential, useful in the sorting process of job candidates. Other credentials, such as badges and certificates, hold promise, but there is still considerable uncertainty about what those credentials mean.

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What can we learn from the “gold rush” days of online education?

Around the year 2000, venture capital firms invested large sums in online education. New for-profit schools entered the market, including spin-offs from nonprofit universities. Yet these start-ups often lacked sustainable business models. In recent years, there has been a similar surge of investment money; whether the new business models will be sustainable remains to be seen.

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Why did nonprofit universities become more accepting of online credentials?

In the early days of online education, for-profit institutions often dominated the marketplace. As technology progressed and as elite institutions entered the online marketplace, more nonprofit colleges and universities were willing to enter online education.

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What have we learned from MOOCs?

MOOCs are still a relative early in their development. At first, they were heralded as a disruptive force that might take the place of traditional degree programs. Now it looks like they will be more useful in the realm of continued and professional education, in part because the majority of those who participate in MOOCs already have a college degree.

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How have e-portfolios and credentialing management systems impacted the workplace?

E-portfolios and credentialing management systems can offer more in-depth and detailed descriptions of what job candidates know and what they can do. However, they are not yet aligned with the business processes of most large companies, so they have limited usefulness, at least as a means of sorting job applicants.

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What new credentials will succeed in the market?

In this era of innovation and experimentation with credentials, we do not yet know which credentials will make a difference in the marketplace. We need a movement to clarify what the new credentials actually mean, similar to what was done in the early days of academic accreditation, as well more of a track record with employers.

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