The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education is the state’s legal structure for providing public education at the collegiate level. It is a coordinated system of colleges and universities located throughout the state. The state system is comprised of 25 colleges and universities – including two research universities, 10 regional universities, one public liberal arts university and 12 community colleges – and 11 constituent agencies and two university centers. The state system is coordinated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE), and each institution is governed by a board of regents.
The work of the OSRHE is defined by constitutional provision, state statute or State Regents’ policy delineating coordinating responsibility for the State System of Higher Education, including the areas of institutional functions, programs of study, standards of education and finances. Dr. Glen D. Johnson is the chief executive officer for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, reporting to a constitutional board whose nine members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
Johnson provides leadership on matters relating to standards for Oklahoma higher education, courses and programs of study, budget allocations for institutions, fees and tuition, and strategic planning. He is responsible for an annual higher education budget in excess of $1.9 billion as well as the state endowment fund, with a market value over $664.2 million. He is responsible for oversight of OneNet, which is Oklahoma’s most advanced technology network designed to provide the infrastructure to support high-speed broadband services, as well as the Oklahoma College Assistance Program, which has guaranteed more than one million student loans exceeding $2.5 billion in insured debt. Johnson directs 20 statewide scholarship programs including the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program and statewide GEAR UP efforts.
Professional staff serve at the pleasure of the Chancellor at the State Regents’ offices located in Oklahoma City. 1 Responsibilities for the agency and its staff include coordination of multiple advisory groups, some of which have been ongoing partners on the micro-credentialing initiative.
Setting the Stage
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) has a longstanding history of facilitating coordination and collaboration among its state system institutions. It exists not only in the anticipated areas such as academic policy, but also in areas like academic program innovations, workforce/economic development, and online education. There are multiple other groups that advise the Chancellor, OSRHE staff, the Council of Presidents, and other state officials, including: Communicators Council, Council for Online Learning Excellence, Online Consortium of Oklahoma, Council of Business Officers, Council on Information Technology, Council on Instruction, Council on Student Affairs, Faculty Advisory Council, and Student Advisory Board.
Council on Instruction
The Council on Instruction (COI) considers academic and related issues affecting Oklahoma higher education, proposes academic and related policy and procedures, and serves as the principal statewide advisory council rendering advice and counsel to the Chancellor in the review of current and recommended academic and related policy and procedures. In performing these responsibilities, the COI renders service to the whole state system.
Membership consists of the chief academic officer of the 25 state institutions, who maintain voting privileges on an equal standing. COI members currently serve on at least one regular committee, some of which include Admission, Retention, and Transfer (ART), Academic Programs, and Assessment. COI may also establish ad-hoc committees to address emerging topics, such as micro-credentialing. Policy proposals are generated within the appropriate committee and funneled to the Council during its monthly meetings, upon which the body may decide to forward the proposal to the Council of Presidents (COP) for consideration for posting for State Regents consideration.2 (Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, 2017)
Economic Development Council
The Economic Development Council (EDC) prioritizes the growth of new and existing business opportunities across Oklahoma, which retain college graduates and promote economic development at the community level and across the state. It serves as an advisory council to the Chancellor, State Regents’ staff, the Council of Presidents, and other state officials.
Membership consists of the principal economic development person as designated by each institution’s President, and members of other councils are permitted to participate as ex officio members. The EDC chairperson appoints ad-hoc committees to study issues affecting economic development.3
Task Force on the Future of Higher Education
In March 2017, the Task Force on the Future of Higher Education was formed and tasked by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education with improving degree completion and productivity through modernization, efficiencies, and innovations. Members included the State Regents, private citizens, representatives from state system institutions, and appointees from the Oklahoma governor’s office and legislature. Following months of analysis and collaboration, the Task Force approved its Report on the Future of Higher Education, which outlined the assessment process undertaken and provided recommendations for improvements across the system.4
Report on the Future of Higher Education
Subcommittee focus areas included college degree completion and workforce development initiatives, academic program innovations and online education, system structure, and fiscal solutions, efficiencies, affordability and technology.5 Recommendations from these Task Force subcommittees included OSRHE providing a statewide framework and policies for institutions to develop micro-degrees and micro-credentials to meet workforce demands and the development of a centralized platform to manage micro-credentials.
Online Collaboration Groups
Initially, two online collaboration groups, which are facilitated by the State Regents staff, laid some of this groundwork for policy and procedure. Established in 2016, the Oklahoma Council for Online Learning Excellence (COLE) has brought together faculty and staff from institutions across the state to push the envelope in distance education and academic innovation. Working across subcommittees with specific focus areas including policy, professional development, open educational resources (OER), and advanced technologies, COLE offers opportunities throughout the year for individuals to gain new or improve existing competencies within online teaching. The Council brings together faculty, learning environment designers and technologists, librarians, and other teaching and learning professionals to improve their craft.
In 2018, the Oklahoma State Regents established the membership-funded Online Consortium of Oklahoma (OCO) to further the sharing of best practices and resources. Initially comprised of 26 state institutions, OCO created a series of action-based strategic plans, one of which focused on the need for shared professional development for faculty across the state. Through the initial groundwork laid by COLE, OCO members expanded the vision of micro-credentialing for Oklahoma faculty and staff to one which accounted for competencies defined beyond a single institution, particularly affecting the numerous adjunct faculties teaching at multiple institutions.
The financial commitment of Oklahoma institutions through membership to the Online Consortium of Oklahoma made it possible to hire a full-time, dedicated professional staff member in fall 2019. Having the action plans pre-determined by the Consortium members made it possible to present the candidates for this position with an opportunity to ideate on the concept of micro-credentialing and digital badges. Ultimately, the position was filled in October 2019, and within the first month, exploration was under way with the support of both OCO and COLE.
Implementation of Professional Development Digital Badging
Since early 2020, both COLE and OCO have issued badges through Badgr to Oklahoma faculty and staff to demonstrate a variety of skills, competencies, achievements, and affiliations.6 Following are some examples of these digital badges, highlighting the variety of scope and focus.
Both COLE and OCO are formed by individuals who volunteer their time and expertise, often outside of regular job duties at their own institution, to further advance distance education and the use of OER throughout Oklahoma. Digital badges offer these members a method of recognition in their digital profiles and signatures, which allows individuals to interact with the information and find out more about their service to these groups.
OCO invited 60 faculty and staff participants to complete a six-week crash course on best practices for teaching STEM online taught by national-level experts. Participants were offered the digital badge as evidence of attendance at weekly sessions, completion of numerous projects, and completion of an evaluation survey.
OCO hosted an open educational resources (OER) summit in October 2020 for Oklahoma faculty and staff. Sessions included collaboration opportunities for Oklahoma faculty, training on Creative Commons licensing, and discipline-specific breakout sessions. The OER summit was made available following the event as an on-demand training resource and participants of both the live and now on-demand experience continue to qualify for the OCO OER Champion digital badge upon successful completion of an online quiz.
Historically, COLE has awarded the Oklahoma Online Excellence Awards as a physical plaque during an in-person event with the Chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Now, award winners are offered a digital badge in addition to the traditional awards. This allows winners to display their badge in multiple digital avenues, allowing for the option of more profound recognition of their achievement supported by online verification.
With the online collaboration groups providing this initial foundation for digital badging at a system level, the challenges of the COVID-19 arrived and disrupted operations throughout the entire system in Oklahoma. Educators met the call to action and created innovative teaching methods to virtually meet the needs of students. As a coordinating body, OSRHE worked in tandem with institutions to provide the necessary policy flexibilities and exceptions, not turning away opportunities to continue moving forward. A window of opportunity arrived in August 2020 when the U.S. Department of Education announced the Reimagining Workforce Preparation (RWP) grants and the U.S. Department of Labor announced the Strengthening Community Colleges (SCC) grants.
Reimagining Workforce Preparation (RWP) Grant Application
The Reimagining Workforce Preparation (RWP) grant was presented to the OSRHE by the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech Education (ODCTE). Oklahoma is unique in that its state system of higher education and state system of career and technical education are coordinated by independent agencies.
The state’s Equipping Oklahomans for Employment grant application focused on Oklahoma’s high coronavirus burden in applying for the Reimagine Workforce Preparation grant. With approval to apply from the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development (the state’s workforce board), the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education (ODCTE) would have created a partnership with the state workforce board and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) to accomplish the grant objectives. ODCTE would have focused on taking to scale short-term programs in order to assist individuals in quickly obtaining employment and/or advancing occupational opportunities. OSRHE would have targeted relevant industries for the creation, implementation, replication, and scaling of industry sector-based education and training models.
Both organizations placed an emphasis on delivering classroom and laboratory skills via distance education. Career tech and collegiate educational services are delivered across the entire state, accounting for specific priority to be given to rural communities and economic opportunity zones. In order to facilitate these partnerships, composed of higher education, other post-secondary training and education providers and Oklahoma industries, this grant would have provided an opportunity to bring to scale a system of digital badges, micro-credentials, and other certificate programs to address the critical skill areas for open workforce opportunities.
For OSRHE, this focus was to include information technology and computer science, health, business/management, energy, engineering/manufacturing, and food/hospitality/retail. The credentialing eco-system would have served as a central conduit for relevant demonstrations of achievements and integration with existing adult student-targeted websites such as ShowWhatYouKnowOK.org. Credentials were to be awarded for completion of coursework, professional development, military training, internship work, and other relevant skill and competency-focused interactions.
The process of creating micro-credentials and/or badges would have greatly expanded the process currently used for articulating industry certifications for college credit. The portal hosting the micro-credential repository would have been linked to national databases to also award badges for nationally recognized certifications. Students would have been able to create an account through the centralized portal, add credentials and badges to their portfolio, and search for employers seeking their specific skill-set through OKJobMatch.com, the statewide job placement website hosted by the Oklahoma Works, the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development. This site, as well as student profiles in LinkedIn and other job search sites, would have guided students on a path to a micro-credential path in real-time. IHE career counseling, workforce development staff, and career tech job placement staff would have assisted students in their search for employment utilizing their earned credentials.
While Oklahoma’s RWP grant application was ultimately not awarded, the ideation and innovation that was generated by this experience of collaboration between ODCTE and OSRHE was valuable for both parties. It would have provided a shared space for Oklahoma students who toggle between the career and technical education and higher education systems, ensuring prior learning experience is transferable even if not for course credit hours.
During the RWP application period, a similar opportunity became available through the U.S. Department of Labor under the Strengthening Community Colleges (SCC) grant program. A consortium of Oklahoma community colleges, led by Tulsa Community College, completed a joint application to address workforce needs within Information Technology and Healthcare via a statewide system for adopting innovative and evidence-based practices to accelerate credit accumulation for eligible participants. These programs would specifically target dislocated workers, incumbent workers, and new entrants to the workforce (including concurrently enrolled high school students), and practices would include competency-based education (CBE), prior learning assessments (PLA), and organizing courses into structured career pathways with stackable credentials, digital badges, or micro-credentials to provide industry-recognized certifications and skills to help participants quickly enter into or advance in the workforce.
The Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges (OACC) agreed to serve as the primary IHE coordinating entity and regularly convened institutions to promote a common vision for strategy adoption and to ensure partners could meet defined project outcomes. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) agreed to serve as a secondary coordinating entity and accountability partner for sustaining systems change. Additionally, the OSRHE agreed to provide technical assistance for colleges transitioning these critical programs to distance learning, including employing simulation technology, and directing efforts to develop statewide articulation agreements for impacted programs.
Utilizing DOL’s Career Pathways Toolkit, the consortium sought to engage partners in building policies and practices that could support expansion of state and regional career pathway systems, with the goal of significantly increasing the number of individuals that enter into and complete credit-bearing certificate and degree training programs in high-wage, high-demand fields.
The Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development identified Information and Financial Services as one of five key demand industry sectors, referred to as Industry Clusters in its “WIOA Unified State Plan 2020-2023.” Healthcare is deemed a complementary ecosystem, and is also a demand industry cluster at the regional level. The consortium could engage local workforce boards representing each of the four planning regions in Oklahoma (Central, Northeast, Western, and Southeast) and include employer and industry representatives for both IT and Healthcare with locations or geographic service areas that span these four regions. Consortium members could also utilize sector-specific strategy implementation frameworks to engage current and potential employers and to design education and training programs to address skills needs.7
Technology and Platform Concerns
While neither the Reimagining Workforce Preparation (RWP) or Strengthening Community Colleges (SCC) grant proposals were ultimately funded, the framework was in place to move forward with the initiative through other means. During the proposed procurement process during these grant applications, numerous concerns were raised regarding how to move ahead as a system while accounting for the diverse abilities of each institution to serve its own community.
Shared or Independent Badging Platform
Due to the collaborative nature of the RWP and SCC grants and the goal of sharing credentials among career tech and higher ed, the system planned to move ahead with one shared credentialing platform. While funding was not obtained for a shared platform initially, the discussion continued among stakeholders, and the goal remained the same. Institutions communicated a desire to explore adopting both a statewide digital badging platform for OSRHE-endorsed micro-credentials in addition to maintaining the freedom to adopt additional platforms to serve other programs within the institution.
When issued a digital credential, learners should be empowered to specify the sharing of the data surrounding their achievement and use it to their advantage. Integrations with top-tier job market platforms, such as LinkedIn or Indeed, are all but mandatory to allow learners to compete for opportunities.
Digital badging technology should provide institutions with an opportunity to leverage a network of other issuers from whom their learners have already gained recognition. These issuers could be within the local workforce or even national-level sources of expertise, such as Google or Microsoft.
Ideally, a digital badging platform should feature integrations with existing sources of learner activity, such as a learning management system (LMS) which would allow for the automation and scaled recognition of completed assessments, completed courses, and issued certificates.
Open Badging 2.0 Platforms
Of primary concern with moving forward, as a state system, with digital badging and micro-credentials, was the need to adhere to Open Badging 2.0 standards, regardless of the platform chosen. Open badges allow learners to share skills and achievements as they are earned and to amass a collection of earned credentials in a digital portfolio independent of the original issuer.
Freemium vs. Paid Subscription
Some digital open badging providers, such as Badgr, offer a “freemium” service which allows any organization free, limited access to issue individual digital badges. Badgr Pro, the enterprise version, allows for single badges to be connected to form next level micro-credentials. Accredible, another open badging provider, offers similar features, which includes the ability for earners to search for relevant job opportunities related to their demonstrated skills. Credly Acclaim, another open badging provider, offers the additional feature of allowing earners to be discoverable in online databases by potential employers. The project group recognized the need to adopt an enterprise-level badging platform in order to account for the multi-layered nature of micro-credentials.
Management and Organizational Concerns
Oklahoma consistently reduced state funding for higher education, falling 18.6% or $195 million between 2015 and 2020.8 The result is the passing on of rising costs to students through increased tuition and fees. Additionally, the limited availability of funds to support new programs has not allowed this initiative to gain traction on a system level. OSRHE submitted a request for increased funding for fiscal year 2022, including a specific allocation of funding for the development of micro-credentials and rapid re-employment strategies in the amount of $1.8 million.9
To take advantage of the momentum initiated through the RWP and SCC collaborations and continue to work toward the goals stated in the Report on the Future of Higher Education, the Online Consortium of Oklahoma (OCO) made a request to OSRHE to fund a one-year pilot subscription to a system-wide digital badging platform, which was awarded in February 2021.
Once funds were secured for the initiative, OCO began researching the best options available among the common enterprise digital badging systems. It was agreed upon by the stakeholder institutions that OSRHE would serve as the central issuer of digital badges during the first year of the pilot. The additional funding requested by OSRHE from the Oklahoma legislature would support the scaling and full implementation of features at each individual state system institution.
As a state agency, OSRHE sought three bids for digital badging platforms based upon an initial capacity of 10,000 earners to compare equivalent options and costs. The ability for Oklahoma students to be discoverable and integrated with the key employment and recruitment platforms was a top priority for the system selected, which was available on a certain level with each provider. Ultimately, the project team selected Credly Acclaim to meet the goals established and agreed upon by institutions.
Scalability and Integrations
If funding is secured upon completion of the pilot phase, there will be options to consider regarding the scale and integrations of the centrally managed digital badging platform among individual institutions. OSRHE sought to secure the lowest possible per-earner pricing for its platform by requesting the 10,000-earner capacity for the pilot year of the project. Institutions will have the option to go beyond their allocation and pay the minimum rate per earner of overage. Beyond the pilot year, the minimum rate will be secured for continued expansion beyond the 10,000 earners.
Many of the enterprise digital badging systems require a one-time affiliate setup fee to be paid when any issuer gains direct access. Direct access is required to implement some of the features of these systems, including:
- Employment directory access to facilitate the searchability of earners for job opportunities
- Learning technology integration (LTI) connections to facilitate issuing of digital badges from learning management systems (LMS)
- Single sign-on (SSO) to facilitate the seamless issuing of accounts for students, staff, and faculty at individual institutions
During the pilot phase of this project, the features above will not be used unless specifically requested and funded by an individual institution. Institutions are also encouraged to explore the free platforms to supplement digital badging programs which would not necessarily benefit from endorsement by OSRHE within the centralized system.
Policy Before Platform Implementation
Planning to move ahead with a shared, and at first, centralized digital badging platform required the creation of an entirely new policy for the proposal of new programs and a procedure for the programming and issuing of digital badges. It was quickly established with input from the Council on Instruction (COI) that OSRHE-endorsed micro-credentials would be required to meet certain criteria and gain approval by the State Regents in order to be posted for issuance on the shared platform. Additionally, the digital badge would require inclusion of specific fields and criteria in order to be programmed and fully functional for its earners.
The State Regents’ academic affairs team would be assigned to oversee the policy development and implementation of new micro-credentialing programs while the Online Consortium of Oklahoma (OCO) would facilitate the onboarding, issuing, and maintenance of digital badges within the shared platform.
CURRENT CHALLENGES FACING THE ORGANIZATION
Learners Navigating OK Career Tech and Higher Education
Oklahoma is unique in that its PK12, career and technical education and higher education agencies are separate systems with independent coordinating agencies. Many Oklahoma learners will graduate from the PK12 system, completing coursework both within the career tech and higher ed systems, yet find instances where there could be difficulty communicating skills gained or transferring credits and competencies earned between these entities.
Evolving Workforce Development Needs
In 2014, only 40.1 percent of Oklahoma’s workforce had a degree, certificate or high-quality credential. Projections show that 70 percent of Oklahoma’s jobs will require some education or training beyond high school by 2025. To address this skills gap, former Oklahoma Governor, Mary Fallin developed the Launch Oklahoma initiative, setting an ambitious goal of having 70 percent of Oklahoma’s adult workforce having attained a college degree, certificate or other high-quality, recognized credential by 2025.10 OSRHE developed strategies that addressed workforce needs and promoted degree and certificate completion in high-demand occupations. Students continue to have difficulty demonstrating the intermittent skills and competencies gained within and beyond traditional academic programs. Employers still tend to overlook candidates on the basis of earned credential instead of upon the evaluation of aptitude of skills and competencies.
Existing Program Approval Policies and Procedures
In response to the recommendations of the 2018 Report on the Future of Higher Education, State Regents’ staff began exploring the use of micro-credentials across the nation and how their use in Oklahoma could complement the existing academic structures already in place. Early discussions brought to light a barrier that institutions faced in addressing the needs and demands of their local workforce partners. Due to the regular program approval process, creating and implementing new academic certificates and degrees may take up to nine months, which prohibited institutions from responding quickly to the training and education needs of the local workforce. Recognizing the need of institutions to innovate and be continuously responsive to the educational needs of local employers, OSRHE staff began reviewing policy with the goal of creating a process in which institutions could develop and offer short-term education and training in a more expedient manner. State Regents’ staff and the Council on Instruction (COI) then created an ad hoc committee with representatives from across the system to include urban and rural, as well as community college, regional, and research institutions to revise policy and procedures for the approval of short-term certificates and the creation and implementation of micro-credentials.
Degree Completion Rates
Oklahoma students with some college, but no degree, are often left saddled with debt and without much agency on the job market. In 2011, Oklahoma joined the Complete College America (CCA) consortium of states, making increasing college degree completion a top state priority. OSRHE encouraged and supported a statewide approach that accelerated and scaled the implementation of data-proven completion strategies to achieve Oklahoma’s college degree completion goal of increasing the number of degrees and certificates earned by 67 percent by 2023.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have identified college completion as their No. 1 goal and continue working to increase the number of degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 67% by 2023. The State Regents’ engagement in Complete College America (CCA) is the most comprehensive and ambitious higher education initiative ever undertaken in the state. Oklahoma has been named a national model for CCA, with a plan focused on promoting college readiness, transforming remediation, strengthening pathways to certificates and degrees, expanding adult degree completion efforts, and rewarding performance and completion.
SOLUTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendations from the Report on the Future of Higher Education
In its 2018 report, the Task Force on the Future of Higher Education identified strategies which were encouraged in the development of a system approach to micro-credentialing. This included the offering of micro-credentials primarily through online delivery channels to better facilitate access and convenience for adult learners. Micro-credentials should be delivered with open entry/open exit flexibility at a competitive cost.
As recommended in the report, the grant collaboration opportunities presented an opportunity to begin identifying the specific areas of expertise which could be served by individual institutions. It also brought together Oklahoma higher education and career tech for conversations surrounding the interoperability of credentials in a way that is more flexible than the traditional academic transcript and for-credit courses.
Endorsement of Micro-Credentials by State Authority
Endorsement of digital badges and micro-credentials through an approved process by OSRHE will lend credibility and agency to this initiative and its earners throughout the system. OSRHE’s ability to promote micro-credentials across the system will open the door to economic development opportunities and leveraging of key industry partnerships local to individual institutions or able to be served regionally and or statewide.
Develop Shared Policy and Procedure for Micro-Credentialing
Oklahoma institutions have been offering both short- and long-term certificates for years. Therefore, initial discussions of micro-credentials and digital badging centered around how micro-credentials would be different than current program offerings available through higher education rather than a rebranding of credentials already in place. It was quickly realized that the implementation of micro-credentials provided Oklahoma higher education institutions an opportunity not only to rethink and re-imagine how education was being delivered, but also allow students a unique new capacity to showcase their knowledge, skills, and competencies. Understanding that learning and the acquisition of career critical skills can take place in a variety of formats, including experiential learning activities, but also recognizing the need to not exclude the traditional, credit-based educational environment, committee members began crafting a definition of micro-credential. It was also important to the committee that the micro-credentials were of value to both the student and potential employer; and therefore, would need to be assessed to ensure students were achieving a level of competency to be awarded the micro-credential. After much discussion, the committee approved the following as the definition of micro-credential: “a short-term, measurable, postsecondary, credential comprised of a coherent set of non-credit bearing activities or projects, and/or up to 9 hours of credit bearing courses that provide specific career critical skills, competencies, and knowledge, that can be readily transferred to the workplace.” Additionally, while the terms micro-credential and badges are often used interchangeably, the committee was strategic in distinguishing between the two. Whereas the micro-credential contains the metadata that defines the purpose, learning outcomes, and other verifiable data, the digital badge is the electronic, front-facing representation or image of the micro-credential.
Once the definition was finalized, the committee began discussion of the approval process and criteria required to create a micro-credential. The committee and OSRHE staff determined that although a micro-credential may contain credit-bearing coursework, they are considered non-academic programs and did not need to follow the same process as new academic programs, such as associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees and certificates. However, since this was a systemwide project, both OSRHE staff and the committee felt strongly that micro-credentials bearing OSRHE approval needed to meet specific criteria. In addition to basic information, such as name of the micro-credential and image to be used, to be included on the statewide badging platform, micro-credentials must address career critical skills and include a coherent set of activities, have clear and measurable learning outcomes, and be overseen by qualified faculty and staff at the institution.
Expedite System-Level Program Approval
Currently, institutions wanting to establish a new academic degree program or certificate are required to follow a lengthy program approval process, including the submission of a Letter of Intent to the state system Chancellor, waiting a minimum of 30 days to submit the program proposal, staff preparation of an agenda item, and consideration at a State Regents’ meeting. The process is normally seamless; however, unforeseen circumstances, such as State Regents’ meeting cancellations due to weather or the pandemic, can delay program approval; which, in turn, delays implementation at the institution.
Figure 1. New Program Flowchart demonstrates the traditional process of approving new academic programs. (Beauchamp, New Program Flowchart, 2012)
And, while the process cannot be shortened for all degree programs, for those credentials that need to be implemented quickly, OSRHE staff worked on revising policy to allow institutions to create and implement certificates consisting of 15 or fewer credit hours in a more expedient manner. For these credentials, institutions will no longer need to follow the letter of intent and subsequent procedures. Once the revised policy is approved, short-term certificates consisting of 15 or fewer credit hours may be formally submitted to the Chancellor and then reviewed by State Regents’ staff. If the certificate meeting the criteria outlined in policy, staff will make a recommendation to the Chancellor for approval and then it may be submitted to the State Regents for ratification. This expedited process will allow institutions to be more responsive to local workforce needs and provide just-in-time training for employees.
Figure 2. Micro-credential Flowchart demonstrates the quick-approval process to be initiated upon approval by the State Regents. (Beauchamp, Micro-credential Flowchart, 2021)
Enhance New and Existing Programs
In addition to the implementation of micro-credentials, OSRHE is working to establish a statewide Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Applied Technology degree, through which individuals who have earned an industry-recognized credential can be awarded up to 42 credit hours of prior learning credit. Additionally, the AAS in Applied Technology will serve as a degree completion program for those students who have earned college credit toward an applied science degree but stopped out prior to graduation or who have completed college-level equivalent training from a career technology center. Students would then complete 18 credit hours of general education courses and any remaining credit hours of industry-related electives to complete their AAS degree. These pathways will be a game-changer for those individuals working in technical fields who also want to complete their college degree for professional and/or personal growth.
Aligning career pathways with regional labor markets is one way to ensure that youth are prepared for and participate in their economic advancement. As described by research, fully developing and implementing career pathways elements to support educational and work-based experiences that are aligned with local labor markets requires time and cross-sector input (Jenessen, 2021). A review of any local labor market will reveal that some employers and sectors value certifications (competency proficiencies) whereas others place more value on work experience.
Research related to curriculum and program development in mathematics education has initiated the re-examination of courses in mathematics that align with a student’s program of study.11 Institutions of higher education across the Oklahoma state system are redesigning their degree requirements to include the default mathematics course that is more applicable to the program of study.
In an effort to make math courses more relevant and improve success rates in college mathematics, public institutions within the state system implemented math pathways. Math pathways enable students to take different courses offered through the math curriculum, depending on their program of study. With math pathways, students learn mathematics relevant to their academic and career goals. For many students, math pathways remove the obstacle that a single-algebra pathway often posed.12
Creating these pathways required system level and institutional changes to policies and practices. OSRHE’s course equivalency project (CEP) removes common barriers such as course transfers between colleges and misaligned prerequisites. Oklahoma institutions of higher education are still collaborating to identify the most appropriate math requirements for all programs of study.
Career-Based Math Pathways
Now equipped with micro-credentials and the ability to create short-term programs, there is an additional area of potential growth to explore. Further collaborations with local employers may reveal specific mathematics competencies that allow institutions to award a micro-credential that is relevant to critical workforce skills. Learners could benefit from incremental awarding of micro-credentials which promote competencies gained within math courses starting at the developmental level. Such skills as using graphic sources and quantitative reasoning to problem solve could help learners to better connect to the math-focused skills relevant to their chosen pathway.
Recognize Needs and Accomplishments of Adult Learners
The State Regents’ Reach Higher adult degree completion programs provide welcoming environments with specialized advising and support systems for adult students to return and complete degrees in high-demand fields. To date, more than 10,000 students have completed a degree through the Reach Higher program.13 Grant funding has enabled expansion of specialized supports for Oklahoma adult learners and development of a prior learning assessment website, ShowWhatYouKnowOK.org, which empowers adults to earn college credit for knowledge gained through work and life experiences, non-degree-granting institutions, military training, or other learning environments.
Promote Degree Completion and Credential Attainment
Graduation rates at every tier in Oklahoma higher education have risen significantly in the 10 years since joining CCA, driving the state’s economy by providing a more educated workforce. Despite budget cuts to public higher education exceeding 26% since inception of our state’s CCA initiative, Oklahoma’s public and private colleges and universities and career technology centers have increased degree and certificate completion by more than 98% of the target benchmark to date. Within that growth is an exceptional increase in high-paying, high-demand STEM and health professions degrees. STEM degrees have increased by more than 54% in just the last nine years, and health care-related fields rank as the top degree-producing area at the associate degree level, and among the top three at all degree levels.
Additionally, since joining the CCA initiative, the State Regents and our public colleges and universities have collaborated to implement various strategies to transform developmental education through changes to system-level policies and institutional practices. Aligning standards with the State Department of Education, working with campuses to develop innovative co-requisite course models, and an innovative math pathways approach, among other efforts, have resulted in a decrease in the direct-from-high school remediation rate from 40.1% to 34.6% since 2014. Oklahoma has also made a concentrated effort to re-engage adult students.
Beauchamp, S. (2012, June). New Program Flowchart. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
Beauchamp, S. (2021, 03 01). Micro-credential Flowchart. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE).
Charles A. Dana Center. (2020, April). Emerging Issues in Mathematics Pathways. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from University of Texas-Austin Charles A. Dana Center: https://dcmathpathways.org/sites/default/files/resources/2020-04/Emerging-Issues-in-Mathematics-Pathways.pdf
Ganga, E. a. (2018, October). Math Pathways: Expanding Options for Success in College Math. Retrieved 02 15, 2021, from Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness: https://postsecondaryreadiness.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/math-pathways-expanding-options-success.pdf
Illinois State University. (2020, March 15). Grapevine. Retrieved from Illinois State University College of Education: https://education.illinoisstate.edu/grapevine/
Jenness, S. d. (2021, January). Jobs for the Future. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from www.jff.org: https://www.jff.org/what-we-do/impact-stories/building-equitable-pathways/labor-market-information-pathways-designs/
Office of Governor Mary Fallin. (2016, 12 29). PRESS RELEASE: Gov. Fallin Establishes Goal to Increase Post-secondary Education, Training Attainment. Retrieved 02 15, 2021, from Office of Governor J. Kevin Stitt: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/OKGOV/bulletins/17cfbb3
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KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
Career pathway: An identified cluster of jobs that require similar skills and flexible opportunities for growth within multiple areas.
Credential: A document or certificate, issued in a digital or physical format, which identifies qualifications, competencies, or authority of an individual as issued by a reputable authority.
Critical occupation: An occupation which requires some education or training which is not sufficiently met by the currently available workforce.
Digital badge: A digital indicator of an accomplishment or skill which can be issued, accessed, displayed, and verified online.
Economic opportunity zone: Areas designated by Congress with a goal of stimulating long-term private investment in low-income, underrepresented and underserved communities.
Freemium: An amalgamation of “free” and “premium,” any product which offers limited access for free with more advanced features available for a fee.
Math pathway: A sequence of courses a learner follows specific to their program of study, including a gateway course which is aligned with a learner’s initial mathematical competence.
Micro-credential: A certification, commonly issued via one or a series of digital badges, which demonstrates competency or mastery of one or more skills.
Short-term program: A program which provides skills or career-based training to individuals relevant to their immediate and evolving workforce and professional goals.
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