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CLASP Releases Paper on Strategies to Create Stackable Credentials

Posted on 05/16/2014

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The Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP External link opens in new window or tab) recently released the paper Scaling "Stackable Credentials": Implications for Implementation and Policy External link opens in new window or tab by Evelyn Ganzglass. For the purpose of her study, the author uses the Department of Labor's definition of "stackable credentials as "part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up an individual's qualifications and help them to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs." 

In today's unstable economy, there has been a focus on stackable credits, and their effects on workers' and students' economic viability and mobility. Workers with higher levels of education and credentials are generally positioned to rebound more quickly during economic downturns. Ganzglass sees stackable credits as "potentially transferable currency that can help people progress in our multi-layered education, training, and credentialing system without having to start over as their needs and interests change." She explored reforms in policies and practices to address some of the barriers to attaining educational and occupational credentials. Ganzglass also discusses the strategies being used to create stackable credentials, a principal feature of career pathways, in the states where data was gathered—Kentucky, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

Career pathways systems, as the report indicates, "connect progressive levels of education, training, and supportive services in specific sectors or cross-sector occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals … in securing marketable credentials, family-supporting employment, and further education and employment opportunities." The report underscores the increased importance that policymakers, such as National Governors Association members, place on stackable credentialing in response to the president's challenge that all Americans complete some postsecondary schooling as a requisite for entering and staying in the middle class. 

The paper reveals that the four states and their local area colleges studied are increasing credential attainment in a variety of ways. The findings are not intended to be representative of all efforts, but rather to serve as a kind of window into the diverse developments and emerging approaches to stacking credentials and their associated implementation challenges. Ganzglass describes five strategies to help students, workers, and job seekers overcome obstacles to attaining stackable credentials: 

  1. "Modularize existing applied associate degree and technical diploma programs;
  2. "Embed existing industry and professional certifications in career and technical programs;
  3. "Streamline and scale processes for awarding credit for learning represented by non-collegiate credentials;
  4. "Create ‘lattice credentials' that allow students to move both up to a career ladder within an occupational field or across multiple pathways in a career lattice; and
  5. Create dual enrollment options that enable students to work concurrently toward a high school diploma or its equivalency, marketable postsecondary credentials and industry certifications." 

While stackable credentials as a best practice is still in the early stages of development, it appears to be worth pursuing as potentially "transferable currency" that will allow people to progress in education, training, and gaining credentials without having to always start over.

Source: OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab, May 4, 2014.

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