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Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: Micro-credentials and SUNY's Micro-credential Policy

For questions on any of the information provided below or to suggest additional questions/responses to add, please contact: provost@suny.edu


THE WHAT (1-4)

Q1. What are micro-credentials?

Q2. How are micro-credentials offered (i.e., online, in the classroom)?

Q3.  Are micro-credentials only for a certain sector of SUNY campuses?

Q4. Are micro-credentials credit or non-credit?

THE WHY (5-8)

Q5. What value do micro-credentials add?  (Also identifies different types of micro-credentials)

Q6. Who are the potential audiences for micro-credentials?

Q7. Do employers understand micro-credentials?

Q8.  Is there research to support the validity of micro-credentials?

THE HOW (9-12)

Q9. How many credits should a for-credit micro-credential be?

Q10. Do non-credit micro-credentials have to go through academic governance?

Q11. When should I involve faculty governance?

Q12. Can certain achievement standards be set in order to earn a micro-credential, i.e., not just completing three courses, but completing them with a grade of B or better?

DISTINCTIONS (13-15)

Q13. Are registered certificates micro-credentials? Are minors micro-credentials? Why would I offer micro-credentials when I already offer minors and certificates?

Q14. Are industry certifications micro-credentials?

Q15. What’s the difference between a “badge” and a “micro-credential”?

PROCESS (16-17)

Q16. Do micro-credentials require NYSED approval?

Q17. When is it advisable to seek SUNY approval and NYSED registration of a curriculum that is less than a full degree?

FINANCIAL AID (18)

Q18. Are micro-credentials eligible for financial aid?

RECORDING AND REPORTING (19-20)

Q19. Should micro-credentials be recorded on the transcript?

Q20. How do I record and track students who are pursuing micro-credentials? What if they are non-matriculated students? What if they are taking a non-credit micro-credential?

GETTING STARTED (21)

Q21. How do I set up guidelines/practices for micro-credentials on my campus?

Q22.  If we haven’t started yet, what do we do?

 



 

The What (1-4)

Q1.  What are micro-credentials?

A. At the most basic level, micro-credentials are credentials that verify, validate, and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved. They differ from traditional degrees and certificates in that they are generally offered in shorter or more flexible timespans and tend to be more narrowly focused. They are generally developed by bundling courses from existing degree programs, certificates or minors. Given SUNY’s commitment to ensuring the highest quality micro-credential program, the SUNY Trustees endorsed a SUNY-specific definition of micro-credentials.

SUNY micro-credentials:

Q2.  How are micro-credentials offered (i.e., online, in the classroom)?

A. Micro-credentials can be offered online, in the classroom, or via a hybrid of both.

Q3.  Are micro-credentials only for a certain sector of SUNY campuses?

A. Not at all. SUNY community colleges, technology colleges, comprehensive colleges and doctoral degree granting institutions are either offering or planning to offer micro-credentials.

Q4.  Are micro-credentials credit or non-credit?

A. A campus can offer both credit and non-credit micro-credentials.  

SUNY’s policy also supports micro-credentials that move students from non-credit to credit-bearing coursework, i.e., the non-credit micro-credential has value on its own but it has also been evaluated for transferring into, or stacking to, a credit-bearing program. This pathway for students to a degree is a significant benefit of micro-credentials.


 

The Why (5-8)

Q5.  What value do micro-credentials add?

There are a number of different ways in which micro-credentials can add value to a broad range of audiences:

Q6.  Who are the potential audiences for micro-credentials?

Given the wide range of potential uses for micro-credentials, there are a number of different potential target audiences:

Q7.  Do employers understand micro-credentials?

A. While some employers may have heard of micro-credentials (and others like IBM are actively engaged in awarding them—some in partnership with academic institutions), we have much work to do to ensure that NYS businesses understand SUNY’s rigorous, faculty-driven approach to micro-credentials. And importantly, that there are opportunities for them to partner with SUNY campuses directly to develop micro-credentials that meet their needs for building a pipeline of new employees and/or upskilling existing employees (reminder that these types of partnerships are great opportunities to develop stackable micro-credentials that move employees toward earning a degree).

At the System level we worked initially with the Business Council of New York State and individual Chambers of Commerce to share news of SUNY’s policy. The response has been very positive with clear support for the fact that each micro-credential carries the endorsement of the institution and that there is a faculty-driven process and commitment to rigor and quality.  Now that a number of campuses have micro-credentials up and running we will explore opportunities to update these audiences.

We encourage each campus to work directly with their local business/industry/P-12 partners and local Chambers of Commerce to share the good news of SUNY’s policy and opportunities for partnership.

Q8.  Is there research to support the validity of micro-credentials?

A. Yes, but not enough (this is an opportunity for faculty!). The prominence of what some call “heavy-weight” micro-credentials like the ones called for in SUNY’s policy that are rigorous and linked to an assessment of learning is comparatively new with research coming in the last few years.  An interesting note is that most research done to date is under the term “digital badge” – it takes a bit of screening to determine whether or not the work is focused on “heavy-weight” credentials.

There is a list of helpful journal articles at: Appendix C, page 31 of the SUNY Micro-Credentialing Task Force Report. A subgroup of the SUNY Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology (FACT2) has added to that resource with an additional listing of resources on micro-credentials and digital badging.  

In addition, two books have been particularly helpful in System work:

Muilenburg, L. and Berge, Z. (2016). Digital Badges in Education. Trends, Issues and Cases. New York, New York: Routledge.

Ifenthaler, D., Bellin-Mularski, N., Mah, D-K. (2016). Foundation of Digital Badges and Micro-Credentials, Demonstrating and Recognizing Knowledge and Competencies. New York, New York: Springer.


 

The How (9-12)

Q9. How many credits should a for-credit micro-credential be?

A. Micro-credentials are intentionally narrow in focus. To date, micro-credentials across SUNY average 6 credits. A range from 6 to 16 is common.

Q10.  Do non-credit micro-credentials have to go through academic governance?

The intent of the SUNY Trustees’ policy, which applies to all SUNY campuses, was that all micro-credentials are developed via local faculty governance policies.

As a matter of course, all non-credit micro-credentials should be evaluated to determine the possibility of stacking toward a credit-bearing degree or certificate. Those non-credit micro-credentials that stack must go through academic governance. Conducting this review at the development stage is important.

Faculty governance on a given campus may specify which types of micro-credentials it will require go through local procedures. This should be documented as part of a campus’s formal micro-credential procedures and practices.

This is a key reason why SUNY’s policy encourages collaborative policy development, in particular, bringing together continuing education, academic affairs, workforce development, faculty and student governance to plan.

Q11.  When should I involve faculty governance?

A. From the beginning.

Q12.  Can certain achievement standards be set in order to earn a micro-credential, i.e., not just completing three courses, but completing them with a grade of B or better?

A.  Yes. Faculty can set criteria for meeting a certain grade level, completing certain tasks, etc. in order to earn the micro-credential. Some campuses have opted to document minimum standards explicitly as part of their local policies and practices around micro-credentials.


 

Distinctions (13-15)

Q13.  Are registered certificates micro-credentials? Are minors micro-credentials? Why would I offer micro-credentials when I already offer minors and certificates?

A.  Registered certificates and minors are both distinct from micro-credentials.  While certificates and minors tend to be focused groupings of courses, micro-credentials tend to be even more narrow in focus.  There may be students, alumni, business, community or P-12 partners who are interested in some but not all of the courses that comprise an existing minor or certificate.

For example, a digital media certificate might be a great program to help someone get started in the field or for some existing professionals to refresh their skills. However, a photographer or a web developer may only need to take those subject matter courses related to their respective fields to get what they need. Note that a micro-credential can stack to a minor or certificate.

In fact, a campus could opt to pull courses from a registered certificate or minor to create a micro-credential. That micro-credential could stack to the certificate or minor.

The flexibility afforded to faculty in developing micro-credentials, which can be approved at the local level, may also inspire new groupings of curriculum to meet student/alumni/partner interest.

Q14.  Are industry certifications micro-credentials?

A. No, industry certifications are similar to but distinct from SUNY micro-credentials. However, there is a lot of interest in building micro-credentials around, or linking micro-credentials to, industry certifications. Questions to guide campuses:

  1. Are there certifications for which persistence is an issue? Would the issuing body accept breaking up the certification into a series of progressive micro-credentials, i.e., smaller chunks of curriculum that students could focus on and master before moving onto the next? Here the motivational value of micro-credentials comes into play.

  2. Are there courses that could be bundled with the certification to help students distinguish themselves in the market place? Business communication, introduction to being a supervisor, preparing and managing a budget, etc. The added courses and certification could be bundled as a micro-credential.

  3. Post completion of the certification, are there additional courses that could be offered to up-skill those individuals? Are there opportunities to offer courses in the latest developments in the area of study that might not have been incorporated into the certification? These added courses could be micro-credentials.

 Q15.  What’s the difference between a “badge” and a “micro-credential”?

A.  The nomenclature around micro-credentials is confusing, despite lots of national efforts to make it more clear! Often times the terms digital badge and micro-credential are used interchangably. That lack of clarity is one of the primary reasons why the policy incorporates a SUNY-specific definition of micro-credential. The intent of the policy was that digital badges could be used (not required) to represent completion of a micro-credential as follows:

Badge: Use of digital technologies to represent competencies and various learning achievements; electronic badges should include meta-data on the evidence of learning (learning outcomes, assessments, and links to examples of supporting student work). Badges should link back to the sponsoring institution and evaluation criteria.

There have been concerns expressed about the term 'badge' as being too reminiscent of the Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts; however, digital badges remain very prominent tools that students can use as a reference when describing the skills/competencies they have mastered that can also be posted on an e-resume and social media or shared via email with prospective employers or intership directors.

Since the adoption of the policy, we have had at least one campus who has decided that it would call initial credentials earned “badges”; and that these badges would stack to a micro-credential and that multiple micro-credentials could stack toward a degree. Other institutions consistently use the term micro-credential; three micro-credentials plus two courses stack to a degree. There has also been discussion about a series of micro-credentials that stack to a meta-micro-credential.

Campuses have flexibility here. Note: Avoid using the word 'Certificate' as that has a distinct meaning in New York and is associated with a registered credential. Also avoid giving a micro-credential the same name as an existing degree program or certification to avoid any confusion for students.

Note too that there is a listing of micro-credential definition and terms adopted as part of SUNY’s policy available here: https://system.suny.edu/academic-affairs/microcredentials/definitions/.

 


 

Process (16-17)

Q16.  Do Micro-credentials require SED approval?

A.  No, SUNY’s micro-credentials are reviewed by each campus through established local faculty governance; they are not registered by NYSED. 

Some confusion about the terms program and certificate result from their general meanings as planned sets of activities in any realm of life with documentation that attests to achievement/completion versus the regulatory meaning of these terms in the narrow scope of NYSED registered academic curricula. 

After approval by SUNY, NYSED registers academic credit-bearing formal degree programs, including degree and certificate programs, along with a variety of other matters, such as branch campuses and extension centers.  Micro-credentials are distinct from this activity.

The following definitions/distinctions may be helpful:

Credit-bearing micro-credentials fall into this category. Note that these sets of credit-bearing courses should not be called certificates, in order to avoid their being confused with registered certificates.

Non-credit-bearing micro-credentials may fall into this category (see also Continuing Education below).

Continuing education/workforce development activities could be considered micro-credentials provided that they meet the SUNY definition (clear learning outcomes, assessments, and faculty governance review). These could also be reviewed (prior learning assessment) for “stackability,” i.e., transfer into registered curriculums, programs, and certificates.

Q17.  When is it advisable to seek SUNY approval and NYSED registration of a curriculum that is less than a full degree?

A.  When:


 

Financial Aid (18)

Q18.  Are micro-credentials eligible for financial aid?

A.  Micro-credentials can be eligible for financial aid, depending on certain criteria. Please see our financial aid resource sheet for details.


 

Recording and Reporting (19-20)

Q19.  Should micro-credentials be recorded on the transcript?

A. Yes. SUNY’s Transferability and Portability team will soon be releasing recommendations to support campus efforts to record micro-credentials on the transcript.


Q20.  How do I record and track students who are pursuing micro-credentials? What if they are non-matriculated students? What if they are taking a non-credit micro-credential?

A. Tracking students as they progress through micro-credentials is vitally important. System has an implementation team led by Senior Assistant Provost Teresa Foster and staffed by IR directors, IT, and registrars, that will soon be providing recommendations and pathways for campuses to collect and report related micro-credential data.  In the interim, our thanks to SUNY campus registrars who are developing interim systems on their campuses.  For additional information, please contact: provost@suny.edu.


 

Getting Started (21-22)

Q21.  How do I set up guidelines/practices for micro-credentials on my campus?

A.  Several campuses have reported that collaborative development of local policies approved by faculty governance and in several cases approved by local boards or councils has been very helpful to moving their micro-credential planning forward.

The most common approach was the convening of a group, task force or committee to work on and then propose a draft to be circulated for comment.

We encourage representative committees that include at a minimum representatives from faculty and student governance, academic affairs, continuing education, workforce development, alumni relations, career centers, and registrars.

Q22.  If we haven’t started yet, what do we do?

A good place to start is with the final report of the SUNY Micro-Credentialing Task Force and the convening of a working group or task force.  The report includes examples, best practices, and links to resources and is a good background piece for your planning team.  Also available on the SUNY micro-credentialing website is a link to the Trustees’ policy document and a broad range of information resources. 

Cynthia Proctor, Director of Communications and Academic Policy Development is available as a resource and has been videoing in and/or visiting campuses to review the policy, share what other campuses are doing, and to answer any and all questions.

Because ideas for micro-credentials can come from any number of sources, campuses have reported that it is very helpful to involve a broad range of campus constituents in the planning.  As noted previously, we encourage broad committees that include at a minimum representatives from faculty and student governance, academic affairs, continuing education, workforce development, alumni relations, career centers, and registrars.

Once the team is together and has an understanding of what’s possible, there may be some lingering questions and concerns that could be addressed in a local policies or practices document (see Q20. of this FAQ).

The next steps are to think about are target audience and the types of micro-credentials that can best meet their needs (see Q5. and Q6. of this FAQ). Campuses have reported the following as tools that helped them to decide where to start:  surveys of students; surveys of faculty and staff; surveys of local employers; focus groups with local employers; day-long brainstorming sessions with the leaders/workforce development directors of business and industry; an RFP issued to faculty to identify what they are interested in offering; engagement of existing employer review boards for academic programs to discuss micro-credential opportunities; conversations within departments about particularly challenging courses or program milestones where a micro-credential might help students to persist.

Once you have decided what audience you want to target and have an idea of the types of micro-credentials that would be helpful, you will enter the design phase. As SUNY micro-credentials are competency based, it may be helpful to think about learning outcomes,  skills/competencies mastered, and the types of assessments, exercises, exams, team projects, reflections that will serve as the evidence that the student has mastered the designated skills/competencies.  As most micro-credentials will be built from courses in existing degree programs, you will likely have existing resources to pull from. Note: A key question to ask: if this micro-credential is non-credit, is there an opportunity for the student to later apply what they have learned to a for-credit program. If yes, planning for this—an evaluation of the proposed coursework for transfer (stacking) into a degree program should be done. Doing this at the beginning of the process allows you to communicate the potential pathway toward a degree from the start.

As you plan to move your proposed micro-credential through your local faculty governance process, you should also begin to think about marketing and logistics. Prospective students need to know how to find your micro-credentials – on your website, course catalogue, advisors, etc. Will you offer a digital badge to recognize the credential? Do you have the processes in place to record the micro-credential on the transcript?

No matter what the source of the idea, the importance and value of collaborative design, quality assurance, and a thoughtful marketing/communications plan are key—this is true whether the intent is non-credit, non-credit to credit, or a for-credit credential.

More details coming soon in a Getting Started guide.



Academic Affairs