Credential Inflation-How Reforming Higher Ed With Learner Outcomes Can Damage All Degrees

A few days ago I got linked in a conversation on Rampant Credentialism. Readers frustrated that the degree they had paid good money to obtain didn’t really provide the knowledge or skills anyone seemed to want to pay for. Another reader complained that he had been a craftsman for many years and was now being told he had to get a certificate proving his Competency. He had paid for the program and finished it so he could keep making a living with his experience and skills. But that the coursework of the program itself added nothing. If that certificate was all someone without experience had, it would barely be worth the paper it was written on. Yet it was now required to open the door to future employment. Ensuring a nice stream of income for some credentialing institution.  And what if the next degree is just more of the same?

Remember the cliche about the thousand mile journey still requiring that first step? Well the first step in using education as a means for trying to obtain a different utopian tomorrow redesigned around Sustainability and planned and managed through the advances in computer technology needed that first step somewhere. The somewhere has been higher ed. Going on for more than twenty years now. But nobody told the students or parents or taxpayers.

College used to be where you could go and encounter greatness. Great Minds. Great Books. Great Ideas to Build On. And if you weren’t terribly good at negotiating those encounters and felt more shocked than invigorated, you changed your major or muddled along or learned to cultivate different important character traits besides the intellect. The world truly does need all kinds of knowledge and skills. The science nerd capable of invention needs the people person to help her sell it.

We have talked about Outcomes Based Education in the K-12 classroom. Did you know the Regional Accreditors have pushed Learning Outcomes in higher ed? Major by Major? How about new means of measuring progress and activities so that students from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities and genders and races can all obtain degrees and credentials at rates reflecting their percentage of the population? Did you realize that colleges and universities not willing to go along with the Regional Accreditors vision for transforming American education can lose the right to participate in the federal student loan program? Did you realize the vision of education credentials for all is tied to a political vision for a different kind of society and economy that’s not in place yet? And if it ever does occur, we are looking at drastic reductions in economic prosperity for everyone but the politically connected? Does anyone think the typical employee or exec with a Regional Accreditor has any idea what makes an economy grow? Or a recognition from history that degreed, socially reengineered Human Capital without useful knowledge or skills is a path to disaster?

Did you know that other countries pushing Outcomes Based Education in K-12 and higher ed also adopt Qualifications Frameworks to try to force private businesses to accept these credentials? Which means even more regulation and expensive compliance measures from would-be employers? Money that could have gone towards hiring more employees or developing new desired products and services? That Qualifications Frameworks are expensive, controversial, and a quick trip to a dirigiste economy?

This already revised nature of higher ed is integral to the Common Core’s definition of College Ready. Many changes are already in place and more are coming. All assume preparation for a reimagined future. A dangerous act of widespread social engineering largely going on outside the public eye or awareness. Even many insiders know something is changing but not precisely what it is or what is driving it.

With the current use of the term P-20 meaning Preschool through College, Masters, and Doctorate programs based on generic Competency, Common Core is not just about the attitudes, values, emotions, and interpersonal skill shifts we have  been talking about now in post after post. No the student’s job is also to keep showing up year after year to obtain needed credentials that enrich everyone tied into what is the 2nd largest industry in the world after retail.

Students exist so that administrators can have well-paying jobs.  It’s true in K-12 and it’s especially true on campus. When you reorganize undergraduate education around “Improving Student Engagement, Experience, And Learning Outcomes” or “Learning within a Campus Culture of Diversity,” it takes a great deal of administrative monitoring and meddling to ensure professors do not revert to testing on facts and a body of knowledge. That’s not equally accessible to all students. DING goes the not-to-be permitted gong.

Assessment (one of the listed Big A’s in changing higher ed) for all is to be “multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.” That should get more students to the finish line of getting a degree. It may also be propelling us towards a world where that credential leaves its holder unprepared for anything but waiting tables. Even worse, some of those with the paper credentials had the creativity and imagination and skills with abstract ideas and sequential logic that were never cultivated. The policies and practices of Education for All in too much of their K-12 and then higher ed means that potential is lost. We are all poorer when we restrict our best minds to basic nutrition needed by anyone.

I mentioned in the July 16 post that if the Earth was not moving toward critical environmental tipping points, the proposed Common Core education theories and practices were a fast train to economic catastrophe. Transforming P-20 to Learner Outcomes accessible for all is an expensive fast train to economic catastrophe. And this train has already left the station and is picking up speed. The accreditors seem to want to keep an ongoing relationship now instead of periodic ten-year reviews.

So the push for transformative change is now virtually constant. Just what you did not want to hear before you wrote that tuition check or took out that loan. But we need better recognition of what is wrong if there’s to be any chance that next year’s tuition is not to be purchasing an even more manipulated degree program. I don’t think we can rely on Accreditation (the 2nd Big A) to recognize what is wrong with the map they are using to direct the higher ed train. You see, there is no one forcing Accountability (the 3rd Big A to Transformation) on the Accreditors. Nice gig if you qualify.