Communications from Dr. Sobek

Waubonsee on Leading Edge of Credentialing Discussion, Efforts

The higher education industry continues to be at the center of lively debate and discussion. Much of that discussion focuses on competency-based education and its effect on affordability, time-to-completion, and workplace relevancy.

Last month more than 250 Waubonsee Community College students, faculty, staff and community leaders participated in the Waubonsee Vision 2050 Futures Summit in an effort to anticipate, imagine and elevate the collective futures of the college and community. It was a great event marked by even greater dialogue about a variety of topics, including disruptive innovations, sustainability, the role of the personal touch in a high-tech learning environment, the future of the country’s workforce, and the importance of demonstrated competencies.

In presentations and roundtables focused on these last two topics, the idea of connecting educational institutions and employers was often discussed, as was the idea of students/graduates needing more than a college degree to get a job. Author and keynote speaker Nicholas J. Webb said it’s no longer enough for students to prove that they’ve learned something, but rather, they now need to prove that they’re able to apply that knowledge to create or invent something real. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy President Dr. José Torres echoed this theme, predicting that digital badges will become “the new currency” workers will need to thrive in the future economy.

While digital badges are a relatively new invention, the emphasis on real-world demonstrable skills is well-established, especially for institutions like Waubonsee who offer career and technical education certificates and degrees. The emphasis, however, is growing and changing, as evidenced by The Lumina Foundation’s new “Connecting Credentials” initiative, designed to create “a national dialogue on building a learning-based credentialing system.”

As explained on the initiative’s website, “Postsecondary credentials (degrees, certificates, industry certifications, and more) are the currency through which skills and knowledge are recognized – connecting people to jobs, education programs and career pathways. There’s little clarity about what these credentials mean – their value, their quality and how they connect.”

Waubonsee is actively participating in this dialogue, in order to listen and learn and also to share some of the efforts we’ve undertaken. Our career programs include industry certifications and/or licenses needed to work in a particular field, such as nursing, fire science, health information technology and others. We also offer additional certifications/credentials that go above and beyond entry-level job requirements to help graduates stand out from the crowd and advance their career. Some examples include the many Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Foundation certifications for which we prepare our auto body repair and automotive technology students, the “Gateways to Opportunity: Illinois Professional Development System” credentials our early childhood education students can work to earn, and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials to which our manufacturing curriculum is now aligned.

In many instances though, it’s still a college degree that unlocks the door to a career opportunity. Waubonsee continues to work to make a more seamless path from industry credential(s) to college degree by awarding college credit for industry credentials, where appropriate.

The future is, by its very nature, uncertain. However, it’s a safe bet that tangible, demonstrable workforce-relevant skills and credentials will only grow in importance. Working together through community and industry partnerships, Waubonsee will continue to be on the leading edge of credentialing and competency-based initiatives.