The Lumina Foundation, a national college access organization, has created a task force to highlight the need for a national response to ensure quality post-secondary programs for all students.
Lumina’s Quality Credentials Task Force, consisting of 22 education, policy and workforce leaders, met three times over the course of a year to develop and define a clearer definition of quality credentials.
“It was a bit of an experiment,” said Dr. Debra Humphreys, vice president of strategic impact at Lumina. “Could we create a framework that would encompass all of those different questions and all of those different factors into one model?”
The task force’s results and established quality credential model are featured in the report, Unlocking the Nation’s Potential: A Model to Advance Quality and Equity in Education Beyond High.
“What was really exciting about this task force is it brought together perspectives and experts to speak about quality from different angles,” said Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates. “It was an opportunity to think about quality in a more holistic way.”
Quality credentials are defined as “degrees, certificates, industry certifications or other credentials that, at a minimum, have clear and transparent learning outcomes and that lead to meaningful employment and to further learning,” the report stated.
A model was created to help provide ways to establish more equitable access to quality credentials. The report listed five key indicators that needed to be met or understood including societal outcomes, individual outcomes, intentional program design, student-centered policies and practices and dynamic quality assurance system.
Humphreys emphasized that education systems need to be more student focused.
Education systems are relying on outdated assumptions for quality assurance. As the demographics of college students shift, institutions are not adapting to those changes.
Now, 37 percent of college students are older than 25, 46 percent are first-generation college students and 40 percent are working full-time, according to the report.
“The whole credential landscape was getting more complicated,” said Humphreys, who is also the co-chair of the task force. “There was just all of these different kinds of credentials and the system wasn’t keeping up to speed on that.”
In order to demonstrate the system’s commitment to quality and inequity, it must “close racial and ethnic gaps in attainment rates, assure quality experiences and outcomes for all, balance the current tiered system to create equitable, address inequities within institutions and advance student-centered policy change.”
The research also found that post-secondary credentials matter. According to the report, 11.5 million net new jobs for workers with a post-secondary education while only 80,000 net new jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less.
Peller said it’s important to note that “you cannot have a quality system without addressing equity.”
The task force recognized that inequities have persisted due to a systematic history of oppression against Black, Latino and American Indian communities. Because of that, those students earn credentials at lower rates compared to more privileged students.
According to the report, 45 percent of Black and American Indian students from low-income families delay starting college versus 32 percent of White students. On the other hand, 11 percent of young adults from low-income families earn bachelor’s degrees by age 24, compared with 57 percent from high-income families.
Peller said that one of the first steps to improving inequity in the education system is to make sure institutions count all students in their data. Institutions and states also need to understand the data in order to develop policies for improvement.
Humphreys suggests that universities and colleges can be more transparent with their data.
“Are they watching where their students end up,” she said. “Are they paying attention to that transition from getting that credential to actually using it in the marketplace to gain employment and economic mobility? There is a lot more we could be doing to look at that.”
The task force provided three recommendations for reform: “Commit to pursuing quality and equity as a dual, linked objective. Coordinate the pursuit of curricular reform led by faculty and academic leaders along with regulatory reforms developed by federal and state policymakers, accreditors, and associations. Enlist and support the active cooperation of leaders from all these relevant sectors.”
The task force’s success will be based on whether the report launches collaboration efforts and spurs a conversation about the reforms that need to happen.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable for more equitable access to high quality credentials,” said Humphreys. “It’s really important for different players at different levels of the system and different areas of the system to come together in order to make that happen.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.