Program Development

Our Story: Building SUNY's Microcredential Program and Initial Lessons Learned

SUNY was one of the first Systems (or institutions) of higher education to adopt a broad microcredential policy in January 2018 that would apply to all campuses. Fast forward to today and SUNY is offering more than 400 microcredentials across 29 campuses; and the program continues to grow. 

Microcredentials are compact credentials that complement but differ from certificate and degree programs in that they are smaller and more focused, designed to provide immediate workforce ready skills, knowledge, and experiences, and wherever possible, to also serve as a pathway to an initial or advanced degree (stackable).

SUNY’s microcredential policy provided a strong foundation that has proven sustainable in large part because it is based on the recommendations of a University-wide Task Force. In fact, one of the most important lessons learned in this work to date is the significance of bringing everyone to the table to decide if microcredentials are right for your institution, and if so, to collaboratively develop the practices and procedures that will guide each local program. This collaboration is essential because microcredentials have the potential to touch so many different audiences: existing students, existing employees, prospective students—especially adult learners, alumni, and business, community and P-12 partners.

SUNY is the largest public comprehensive system of higher education in the country, with 64 campuses across New York State. SUNY campuses include community colleges, technology colleges, comprehensive colleges, and doctoral granting institutions. The SUNY Micro-Credentialing Task Force included representatives from across campus sectors, from campuses large and small, urban, and rural. Presidents, chief academic officers, faculty governance, student governance, continuing education, registrars, business officers and more were represented. The result was a policy framework focused on both academic rigor and respect for faculty innovation, that set minimum expectations while also encouraging flexibility and responsiveness.

The recurring focus of SUNY’s Task Force was ensuring academic quality and rigor while still allowing campuses the flexibility and autonomy necessary to creatively launch microcredentials. The answer came in a SUNY-specific microcredential definition, guiding principles for microcredential development, and an intentional decision to support a wide-range of microcredentials.

Picture of a magazine article on Micro-credentials in The Evollution magazine.

"SUNY microcredentials help existing students distinguish themselves in a competitive job market; provide professional development to alumni and professionals across an array of positions and industries; build a pipeline of skilled employees in emerging fields; and, upskill and retrain incumbent workers and those unemployed or underemployed because of the pandemic."

Defining a Role for High-Quality Microcredentials in Higher Education

Key Policy Elements

 

A SUNY SPECIFIC DEFINITION

SUNY microcredentials verify, validate, and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved. They are valid learning experiences with learning outcomes, assessments, and examples of student work. SUNY microcredentials are endorsed by the issuing institution, having been developed through established faculty governance processes and are designed to be meaningful and high quality.

SUNY’s microcredential definition has evolved as the program has grown, better delineating what it means to be “meaningful and high quality,” with a clear focus on meeting potential microcredential earners where they are and providing multiple pathways to success.

The priority is providing skills, knowledge, and experiences that have immediate value in the job market and relevance in the professional field/discipline, and, wherever possible, putting students on a pathway to an initial or advanced certificate or degree. The latter, known as stackable credentials, occurs when credits from the microcredential can be applied toward completing certificate or degree requirements. A successfully completed microcredential comprised of four courses can provide the earner with 12 credits toward a degree; to use right away or when the student is ready. SUNY also offers microcredential series—with beginner, intermediate and advanced microcredentials—providing earners with a broad range of workplace ready skills and even more credit toward a certificate or degree. Some SUNY microcredentials are focused on professional development only, for those well established in the workforce looking to update their skills. Again, the options and audiences served are broad.

Decisions about what microcredentials to offer at SUNY are strategic, informed by new developments and priority knowledge in a given discipline or field, analysis of market demand and industry need, and are an understanding of community and state priorities. Also a priority is ensuring that microcredentials are portable, noted on a transcript and/or digital badge so that each microcredentials has value beyond the institution and can be broadly shared by the earner.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR DEVELOPING MICROCREDENTIALS

SUNY campuses consider guiding principles of microcredential development in building their local programs, principles that underscore SUNY’s microcredential definition and its commitment to quality. This list of principles was included in the original SUNY Micro-Credentialing Task Force report:

Over time, we have also learned how important it is to have a strong infrastructure on campus to allow for easy application, registration, and enrollment in microcredentials. Data collection to allow for following retention and completion, and knowing whether a student then takes additional microcredentials or enrolls in a related degree program is also essential. All of this information is necessary to evaluate and assess program effectiveness and support future growth. As a result, we learned that including staff from information technology, institutional research, admissions, enrollment management and enrollment marketing is also key when it comes to microcredential planning and development.

ALIGNMENT TO MARKET NEEDS/PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

We also recognized that alignment to market needs requires even stronger relationships with business and industry, P-12, and community organizations and active engagement in local, regional, and state workforce and economic development efforts. It also means recognizing broad SUNY faculty expertise and leadership roles in professional organizations and societies, and in state, national and international standards development.

SUPPORT FOR A BROAD RANGE OF MICROCREDENTIALS

When SUNY began this work in 2018 there were examples of University’s piloting microcredentials in one department, or introducing microcredentials in soft or 21st century skills. SUNY intentionally took a different approach, encouraging campuses to consider a broad range of microcredentials to serve multiple audiences—in recognition of student and partner interest, data showing declining high school graduates and more adults interested in higher education, and technology transformations driving the need for life-long learning/professional development. SUNY's policy framework supports microcredentials that:

SUNY has come to understand our work with business and industry as a way to support employee benefits programs; providing training that meets real-time needs, preparing new employees with specialized skills, and allowing employers to support the academic goals of their employees through microcredentials that serve as pathways to certificates, initial and advanced degrees.

Connection to Apprenticeships

SUNY microcredentials are a perfect match with the Apprenticeship Programs at SUNY. Every New York State Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship has a required education component, and that coursework may align directly with a SUNY microcredential. The courses, identified by SUNY in partnership with employers, ensure that relevant instruction prepares apprentices to complete the nationally-recognized journeyworker credential. They may then be bundled to create a SUNY microcredential which provides apprentices with a second stackable credential and a pathway into an associate or bachelor’s degree program. With microcredentials and apprenticeships designed to meet emerging market needs, students are fully equipped for a career in an ever-changing economic landscape.

Supporting National Efforts

Importantly, SUNY is also supporting national efforts that recognizes high-quality microcredentials. Current work includes participation in the national Credential as You Go effort, a partnership of the SUNY System, University of North Carolina System, North Carolina Community College System, Colorado Community College System and Colorado Department of Higher Education. This Institute of Education Services (IES) supported work is being led by SUNY’s Empire State College. 

Our Progress

We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor with adult learners moving from a microcredential to a degree program and with current members of the workforce moving from non-credit professional development to credit bearing activity. We are watching adult learners get the professional development they need and even out-of-state students using microcredentials as a way to get to know SUNY and a particular program. We have created microcredentials to support P-12 educators and administrators. We have created microcredentials in partnership with business/industry partners and community organization partners. Existing students are using microcredentials to recognize key accomplishments and also to add complementary skill sets to their major. More people understand what SUNY microcredentials are and recognize what SUNY offers in this space as distinct.

The ‘credential’ industry is a competitive space with major employers offering their own credentials and universities opting to scale certain courses or groupings of courses on online platforms. All of these efforts, however, are distinct from local university-based microcredential programs that can customize offerings to meet specific needs. SUNY microcredentials are taught by SUNY faculty and the work is of such quality that students can earn academic credit; two factors often not found in other offerings. SUNY’s microcredential program recognizes that students need foundational understanding and experience across multiple leading brands or products. SUNY microcredentials recognize that entry level employment is a starting point not a final destination. And finally, we understand the communities in which we are located; they are our communities too. We understand local, regional and state economies and emerging industries because SUNY has a seat at the table where those discussions are made.

Please feel free to reach out to us to learn more or share feedback by emailing provost@suny.edu

Key Policy Documents