My paper, "The Credentialing Economy: Transformed by and for Its Beneficiaries," will be published by the EDUCAUSE Review Online (ERO) on or around December 6, 2013. I wrote the paper after reading about a policy initiative announced by President Obama in August, 2013. The President's initiative is well underway, as summarized below via excerpts from the “FACT SHEET on the President’s Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class.”
“President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. His plan will measure college performance through a new ratings system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. And after this ratings system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value. The President’s plan will also take down barriers that stand in the way of competition and innovation, particularly in the use of new technology, and shine a light on the most cutting-edge college practices for providing high value at low costs.”
“A higher education is the single most important investment students can make in their own futures. At the same time, it has never been more expensive. That’s why since taking office, President Obama has made historic investments in college affordability, increasing the maximum Pell Grant award for working and middle class families by more than $900, creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and enacting effective student loan reforms eliminating bank subsidies and making college more affordable.”
“However, despite these measures, college tuition keeps rising. The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent, according to College Board and Census data. Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25 percent to 47 percent. While a college education remains a worthwhile investment overall, the average borrower now graduates with over $26,000 in debt. Only 58 percent of full-time students who began college in 2004 earned a four-year degree within six years. Loan default rates are rising, and too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.”
In my ERO paper, I suggest why and how we can work together to improve upon President Obama's plan.
Not that President Obama and Secretary Duncan need my approval, but I say “right on” to their advice for taking advantage of proven and emerging technologies and the innovation strategies they enable – course redesign, flipping classes, MOOCs, modular credentialing (“badges”), competency-based learning/credentialing, adaptive learning/testing, predictive analytics, and other actionable IT-enabled strategies for improving institutional and collective performance.
The President also requested $1 billion to fund a “Race to the Top for Higher Education” and $55 million to fund FIPSE’s “First In the World” (FITW) program aimed at increasing the proportion of adult populations holding a postsecondary credential. The FIPSE National Board endorsed FITW in 2012. As a member of that board, my intent in the ERO article is to offer constructive suggestions for improving upon the President’s plan in several dimensions, including how to meet the educational attainment goals of FITW.
Student financial aid is the President Obama's primary lever for making “college affordable for American families,” especially for those on the low-to-middle rungs of the economic ladder. Again, right on!
Higher education’s service model and its revenue-dependence on student financial aid (grants, tax credits, and loans) have become hot topics for education policy makers and, thus, also targets for programmatic grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates, Lumina, and other foundations, and from regional and national departments of education. For example, Inside Higher Ed reported in 2012 on Completions-Focused Financial Aid. The article described the Gates Foundation’s partnership with a research and advisory group, Washington, DC-based HCM Strategists. HCM is organizing and leading several different but related efforts to use financial-aid as a lever for improving credentialing processes and completion rates while serving a greater proportion of low-income students more productively – i.e., more affordably, not only to needy students, but also to the governments and institutions that support them financially as they earn credentials. With support from the Gates and Lumina foundations, HCM has guided and reported on a number of recent projects. HCM helped to develop (and now maintain) a website on College Productivity and also provide a newsletter and other resources addressing the productivity agenda. The titles of two HCM reports reveal the thrust of some recent work efforts: 1) Doing Better for More Students: Putting Student Outcomes at the Center of Federal Financial Aid, and 2) The American Dream 2.0: How FINANCIAL AID can help improve college access, affordability, and completion.
The American Dream 2.0 report was prepared on behalf of an “American Dream 2.0 Coalition.” The coalition’s agenda is strikingly similar to the agenda of the nonprofit, nongovernmental “Education Leadership Commons” (ELC) described in my ERO article and in the 2012 paper, “Is Education’s Past Its 2050 Prologue?” The paper draws on Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom’s work on the “economic governance of the commons,” as well as my earlier work. The idea is to “consumerize” the common-good credentialing economy by relying more and more on the multiplier efficiencies inherent in “shared services” – a sharable “mash up” of educational data and self-service apps enabled by IMS interoperability standards, along with sharable credentialing processes enabled by such mash ups. Perhaps the best high-tech metaphor for envisioning the credentialing economy as a consumer market is the Education and Career Positioning System that is analogous to the familiar GPS.
In spite of all of these recent initiatives, President Obama's underlying strategy is to 1) tie financial aid to institutional performance on a college “rating” system to be developed collaboratively uner the DoE, 2) challenge states to fund public colleges based on performance, and 3) hold colleges and students receiving financial aid responsible for time-based progress towards a degree. That three-fold strategy, in my opinion, would lead to increased and unnecessary regulation, which the plan itself eschews with its intent to “encourage innovation by stripping away unnecessary regulations.” I hope also that the implementation of the President’s new plan will emphasize needs-tested student grants over student loans. The Department of Education, after all, recently announced that outstanding student-loan debt now stands at $1.2 trillion, second in the consumer market only to mortgage debt. Higher education cannot become an entitlement, but should become a needs-tested right, for which the student also should assume some form of responsibility.
The recent White House initiative, the FITW plan, and many other policy initiatives call for increasing the rates of credentialing and attainment (the proportion of a population holding a postsecondary credential), while also making college more affordable. The “credentialing economy” thus becomes an apt phrase for referring to the education enterprise as an economy or market. The phrase “economic governance” is used in my ERO paper to describe a foundation for a strategy alternative to the President’s regulatory strategy. The economic-governance alternative strategy will attempt to balance economic rights and responsibilities among the students, families, educational institutions, governments, and other economic beneficiaries in the credentialing economy – thus explaining the phrase in the title my ERO paper, “education transformed by and for its economic beneficiaries.” In the closing sections of the ERO paper, I propose this alternative “economic governance strategy for the common-good credentialing economy” and explain it through analogy with the Internet Society (ISOC), Internet Engineering Task Force, (IETF), and their respective roles in the economic governance of the Internet, which continues to work “for everyone” – without regulation! If all people are created equal, shouldn’t education also be affordably and flexibly accessible to everyone and economically governed as openly and inclusively as possible under a set of trust-but-verify success metrics? Let’s pause to take a look at the Internet’s governance model.
We all know the remarkable story of the Internet – the “network of networks,” which today is a paradigm of open, global self-regulation. It is controlled by no one entity, but continues to race forward in response to the common-good interests of all of its economic beneficiaries. Through a Web browser connected to the Internet, the Web becomes a self-service access point for a wealth of resources and services, some free and some for a fee, some open and some by permission. The result has been exponential growth in new economic and social “wealth,” both private and public – the same spectacular results that the President hopes to achieve through his latest higher education policy initiative! Lynn St. Amour, President and CEO of ISOC, put it this way in a 2012 article on Internet governance: “The Internet works because its governance is open, inclusive, collaborative, and transparent.”
Right on, Lynn, that’s how we could govern the credentialing marketplace. Learning to do so will require schools and colleges to emphasize learning, rather than educating, and to expect leadership from, well, executive leaders, with some help from their CIOs and external investors in the credentialing economy, such as governments, employers, donors, for-profit suppliers to education, and nongovernmental nonprofit education-related organizations.
Get the comprehensive story in "The Credentialing Economy: Transformed by and for Its Beneficiaries."