SUNY System and University of Texas System Announce Microcredentials Initiatives
Shortly after I posted my blog article about the Rory McGreal and Don Olcott paper, A Strategic Reset: Micro-credentials for Higher Education Leaders, I read that the SUNY System and UT System had announced microcredential initiatives for their institutions.
SUNY’s announcement was made by New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul. The governor’s press release states that the SUNY System will add more than 400 microcredentials that will be offered at 31 campuses of the SUNY System and online. According to the SUNY microcredential website, the 400+ microcredentials are being offered in 60+ discipline areas in high demand fields including:
- Accounting, finance, and taxation
- Supply chain, project management, and business practices in the U.S.
- Entrepreneurship, leadership, and marketing
- Non-profit, small business, and grant writing
- Computer science, data science, and analytics
- IT, cybersecurity, networking, cloud, and support
- Esports and gaming
- Renewable energy, green building, and clean technology.
Governor Hochul’s press release states that every SUNY System microcredential provides immediate, workforce ready skills and 64 percent of them offer academic credentials toward another microcredential, certificate, or initial or advanced degree. SUNY touts the fact that its microcredentials are taught by its faculty and focus on strict quality standards to award college credit.
I applaud SUNY for the organization of the microcredential webpages. When you click to find the microcredentials offered (426 currently), you are transferred to a page that allows you to search for them based on what you would like to learn. Each microcredential offered is portrayed in an easy-to-read format like the one below:
This mini description provides you with the name of the microcredential, a description of the classes included, and the link between the credential and industry recognition. It also provides the campus where it is offered, if it is online, if it is for-credit, if it is stackable and what it is stackable to, a contact link as well as a button to provide you with more information and a link where you can register for the credential. My only disappointment was that it did not provide me with the cost of the microcredential unless I provide my name, address, and other information by completing a form.
I filtered the search at the top for online only (I live in Texas; I don’t plan to commute to New York) and noted that the number of microcredentials listed shrinks to 186 out of 426. I also filtered it by a community college I have visited, Rockland Community College, and noted that only 8 microcredentials are offered on that campus (obviously, the online credentials are open to all). Until all the microcredentials are available online, I’m not sure that I would tout that over 400 are available on 31 campuses.
The University of Texas System microcredentials are much less developed than the SUNY System credentials. Interested parties are directed to a webpage hosted by the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity and titled Texas Credentials for the Future. The Texas Credentials for the Future initiative will facilitate the expansion and development of industry-recognized credentials offered by the eight institutions that are members of the University of Texas System. The UT System plans to partner with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission to analyze gaps in credential offerings using employment data and employer feedback, develop a plan for expanding credentials that are in high demand, and establish pathways and financial support for enrolling students in these microcredentials.
The Hechinger Report reporter Olivia Sanchez provides more information on the Texas microcredential product than the webpages do. In an article published on February 18, she notes that the program is a pilot program to insert workplace skills valued by employers into the four-year curriculum as an initiative to boost the earnings of alumni of the majors that make the lowest salaries.
The microcredentials included in the pilot might range from digital skills to data analysis to business skills. The eight universities participating in the pilot will decide which credentials to offer and the plan is to have them available beginning the fall of 2022. Unlike the SUNY System which offers microcredentials at four-year and two-year colleges, these microcredentials will be embedded in four-year degree offerings. The UT System hopes to serve 3,700 students by the end of 2022.
In addition to looking at the degree programs whose graduates earn the least money after graduation, the plan is to also consider which majors enroll disproportionate numbers of students of color. Each of the eight campuses will also confer with local workforce leaders to confirm that the planned microcredentials will help their graduates get jobs.
Clearly, the UT System’s microcredential plan, Texas Credentials for the Future, is a pilot program that is still in the planning stages. If courses already exist that could be incorporated into a microcredential, it’s not impossible to assume that the credential could be available for fall 2022 enrollments. However, given that the ultimate plan is to embed these credentials in low earning four-year degrees, I’m not sure that the coordination of degree integration will be completed by fall unless it’s planned that these credentials will replace current course electives.
The UT System pilot microcredential plan looks like an add-on, something that McGreal and Olcott advise leaders to not consider if they want to incorporate microcredentials into their existing curriculum. The pilot is bold in the sense that it applies to four-year universities only. The SUNY System plan is far more developed than the UT System pilot. With four-year and two-year institutions participating, it is not surprising that more than 400 credentials were developed from existing courses. It’s not evident from my review of the SUNY website if these micro-credentials are integrated and stackable when the short summary says they are. I think you may need to enroll as a degree-seeking student to determine that.
I could not find any enrollment targets for the SUNY system program. In one way, that aligns with the McGreal and Olcott recommendation that leaders do not look at microcredentials as a major source of new revenues. On the other hand, if this is part of a strategic reset or alignment, it would be helpful to know if there are enrollment targets. There are 64 colleges and universities in the SUNY System and the program announcement mentions that 31 are participating. If I were considering a similar objective, I would look to the SUNY initiative first.