Traditional higher education accreditation faces challenges in assessing the quality of emerging educational providers that offer new credential types like nanodegrees and microcredentials. Coding academies in particular offer short, intensive, skills-focused programs to teach software development outside the traditional degree framework. Meanwhile, universities and colleges are also experimenting with microcredentials to demonstrate mastery of specific skills or competencies.
For accreditors to properly evaluate these new models, they will need to broaden their standards and review processes. Where accreditation traditionally focused on evaluating institutions based on inputs like facilities and faculty credentials, it will now also need to consider competency-based outputs and student outcomes. Accreditors can draw lessons from the coding academy model that emphasizes demonstrating career readiness over credit hours or degree attainment.
A key first step for accreditors is to establish consistent definitions for terms like microcredentials and alternative providers. Without consensus on what these represent, it becomes difficult to regulate quality. Accreditors should convene stakeholders from traditional and non-traditional education to define domains, credential types, and expected learning outcomes. Common terminology is crucial to building acceptance of new credentials in the labor market and by employers.
Once definitions are clarified, accreditors must adapt their evaluation criteria. Historically, accreditation centered on traditional measures like curriculum design, faculty qualifications, library resources, and physical infrastructure. For non-degree programs, alternative inputs may be more relevant like training methodology, learning materials, placement rates, industry partnerships, and learner feedback. Accreditors need review standards that recognize the instructional design behind competency-based and experiential models not centered around courses or credit hours.
Accreditors also need processes flexible enough to evaluate providers delivering education in non-traditional ways. Coding academies for example may operate entirely online, offer training in flexible modules, and focus more on portfolio demonstration than exams or assignments. Assessment of learning outcomes and career readiness becomes particularly important for these models versus traditional measures of institutional resources. Accreditors will benefit from piloting new evaluation approaches tailored for competency-based and skills-focused credentials.
Extending accreditation to alternative providers protects learners and helps build the credibility of new credential types. The compliance burden of accreditation could discourage innovative models if requirements are not appropriately tailored. Accreditors might consider multiple tiers or categories of recognition accounting for differences in providers like size, funding model, degree of government recognition sought. They could develop fast-track or preliminary approval processes to help new programs demonstrate quality without discouraging experimentation.
Accreditors play a crucial role in raising standards across higher education and validating the value of credentials for students, employers and society. As new education models emerge, accreditation must thoughtfully adapt its processes and criteria to maintain this important oversight and quality assurance function, while still cultivating promising innovations. With care and stakeholder input, accreditors can extend their purview in a way that both protects learners and encourages continued growth of alternative pathways increasingly demanded in today’s changing job market.
For accreditation to properly evaluate emerging education models like coding academies and microcredentials, it needs to broaden its quality standards beyond traditional inputs to also consider competency-based outputs and student outcomes. Key steps include establishing common definitions, adapting evaluation criteria, piloting flexible assessment approaches, and ensuring requirements do not discourage needed innovation while still extending important consumer protections for alternative providers and credential types. Done right, accreditation can promote high-quality options outside traditional degrees in service of lifelong learning.