At a conference of a GW-based research network, Provost Christopher Alan Bracey joined in discussing the future of micro-credentials.
By Greg Varner
As the pace of technological development and knowledge production increases, more and more people need to update their skills. Unforeseen developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic also may require a professional reset. This is why the need for non-degree certification and micro-credentials, or incremental recognition of job-related competencies, is becoming more important.
Provost Christopher Alan Bracey presented an overview of the George Washington University’s response to these developments at a conference of the Non-Degree Credentials Research Network (NCRN), a project of the GW Institute of Public Policy's Program on Skills, Credentials and Workforce Policy which is funded by a grant from Lumina Foundation.
In various ways across campus, Bracey said, GW is responding to ongoing shifts in the education and labor marketplace.
“The marketplace has dictated that lifelong education is important for individuals to stay up to date on all of the latest knowledge and trends in their field,” he said. “It’s not enough anymore to be trained in just the foundational skills in a particular employment space. Workers need to be skilled in new ways to keep pace with changes in their evolving industries.”
Citing an example from computer science, Bracey said that not long ago, mastery of programming languages such as Fortran, BASIC and COBOL was required for people pursuing jobs as coders. For professionals who want to remain competitive, knowledge of the new generation of programming languages such as Python is also needed.
“The world and industry are going to demand that we be lifelong learners,” Bracey said, “constantly retooling and evolving to meet the demands of the day. There are many different types of lifelong learners who could benefit from an education at the George Washington University.”
It will be necessary, he said, for GW as an institution to be nimble and innovative in order to meet the needs of students.
“It is in the interest of the university to expand the pool of eligible learners and beneficiaries of the George Washington University learning enterprise,” he said. “We must extend our reach to new areas and reach out to students we may not have targeted in previous years.”
Across the university, Bracey said, various types of credentials are offered. The School of Business has more than 20 graduate certificate programs, six professional development certification programs and has recently partnered with the School of Engineering and Applied Science to offer engineering students a business school credential that could make them more attractive to potential employers. The School of Nursing offers certificates that allow nurses to develop new specialties or even change their career paths entirely, with the majority of these courses offered online so that nurses around the world can benefit. Bracey gave several additional examples of how GW is positioning itself in the evolving educational landscape.
“We’re 200 years old and entering our third century,” Bracey said. “There are very few organizations that endure for 200 years, and those that do are obviously doing something that other companies and organizations are not doing. We’re conservative as an organization, but we’re nimble when we need to be, and we’ll keep pace with the changing needs of society.”
In other meeting sessions, panels focused on topics such as public policy, the labor market and international developments in micro-credentialing. In the latter session, the consensus view emerged that there is wide variability in how various countries are responding to the micro-credentialing movement. This may be explained by factors such as the type and degree of industry involvement or whether the response is local or nationally driven.
“The master’s degree market might get knocked askew a bit by micro-credentials,” said Thomas Weko, senior policy analyst for the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, attending virtually from his Paris office, “but micro-credentials in general are not a substitute for traditional credentials.”
The key thing, Bracey said, “is to meet students where they are and move them into a learning space where they can flourish academically and, eventually, professionally. Make sure you’re providing them with the courage to investigate and question ideas and intuitions, including their own, about how the world should operate, so that they feel empowered to speak up and make an impact. What has always distinguished GW students is their desire to change the world through their efforts. We want to make sure that this remains a hallmark.”