To embed certifications into degree programs, colleges should get support from top administrators, align their curriculum with certification exam content and inform employers of the credentials, according to a new report.
Workcred, a nonprofit aiming to improve the nation’s credentialing system, partnered with three higher education associations to create a framework for incorporating certifications into degree pathways.
More four-year schools are embedding industry credentials into their programs as pressure mounts to prove they’re graduating students ready for the workforce.
The report contends that certifications embedded in degree programs can benefit students by giving them skills employers seek, growing their earning potential while in college and expanding their awareness of career pathways.
It outlines six steps for creating certification-degree pathways:
Get support from academic leadership.
Create a common language among higher ed groups, certification bodies and employees about credentials.
Align college curriculum with certification exam content.
Determine how the certification would fit into an academic program.
Investing resources into creating the pathways.
Identify how students will share their credentials with employers.
Four-year colleges are increasingly adding certifications into their programs. West Virginia University launched a health and well-being bachelor’s degree this year that includes the option for students to complete several credentials such as personal trainer and health education specialist certifications, according to the report.
Middle Tennessee State University partnered with Siemens, a global technology conglomerate, to incorporate some of the company’s upper-level certifications into one of its engineering degrees to prepare students for manufacturing jobs.
And large technology companies — such as Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft — are also teaming up with colleges to bake their certifications into degree programs and influence curriculum.
AWS, for instance, trains certain college instructors for free to teach its cloud computing courses that prepare students for various certifications. More than 100 two- and four-year institutions in the U.S. have taught at least one Amazon-developed course.
Colleges could face several hurdles when establishing relationships with companies to set curriculum.
Institutions may lack knowledge about how industry certification exams are developed and where they could fit into degree programs. The Workcred report’s authors came up with nearly two-dozen questions colleges can ask certification bodies to assess their credentials’ quality, including which employers seek out candidates with them and how often the exams are updated.
Certification bodies, meanwhile, may not be familiar with colleges’ shared governance and accreditation processes. Better communication and transparency between the two groups will be key, the report argues.