Searching For Answers To The Credential Conundrum

Navneet Johal

Colleges, industry groups, massively open online course (MOOC) providers, and private companies are rolling out a multitude of new types of credentials. This demand for alternatives suggests that colleges may not be offering what students want, and what today’s workforce needs.

According to research and advisory company Gartner, “reinventing credentials” will be the number-one business trend impacting the higher education industry in 2018.  However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the credential conundrum, which means the future is likely to include an explosion of diverse options.

Thus, institutions will be forced to provide alternative digital credentials that students can manage themselves, and leverage blockchain technology as a secure and reliable channel for credentials to be shared with employers.

The value of a college degree in a changing workplace is questionable

Institutions are hearing from employers that their graduates are not adequately prepared for the changing world of work. For example, employers expect that college and university graduates have command of the discipline in which he or she earned a degree, work successfully with a wide range of stakeholders, tackle advanced-level challenges, and add value immediately.  Once a upon a time, employers expected these capabilities only from their more senior leadership hires.

As the skills and competencies needed to keep up in almost any career spiral, college degrees at all levels simply can’t keep up. Institutions have not yet crafted an effective strategy for helping students meet today’s employer expectations. Consequently, there is growing gap between what employers want, and what a degree provides.

Employers are increasingly questioning whether the credential remains a signal of job readiness in an era when more adults have degrees and fewer of them graduate with the soft skills needed in the workplace. Furthermore, with more degrees in circulation, they are no longer a convenient screening mechanism for employers. Institutions must add more value to a degree by incorporating in them the skills students need to be successful in a job.

It’s time to think strategically about alternative digital credentials

It is unclear whether the bachelor’s degree will be completely deconstructed into a range of different credentials in the future. However, what is clear is that micro-credentials such as open badges, nanodegrees, MOOCs, etc. offer the chance to create more efficient packages that certify learning. The foundation of traditional degrees is time spent in a seat which means the depth of learning is equal to the time spent learning. While micro-credentials might also be based on time, it is a much shorter period and the depth of learning is defined through acquiring competencies instead of seat time.

Institutions need to identify the competencies students should learn throughout the curriculum, whether in a fraction of a course or outside the walls of the campus, and build them into the degree. Doing this makes the degree more valuable, and students who obtain a degree become more employable. Alternatively, institutions could reinvent credentials and enable personalization by issuing digital credentials equivalent to existing diplomas and certificates that students could display and manage.

Blockchain technology will revolutionize how credentials are verified and shared

When students complete an academic program of any kind, they typically receive two pieces of paper: a diploma and a transcript. Those are the two costly assets that they use as an admission ticket to further education or employment. Both are official assets, but neither of them are owned by the student.

When applying for jobs, applicants list their diploma on their resume and it is up to employers to verify it through a background check. The same is true for transcripts. Graduates must request official copies from the registrar’s office, at a cost. Unfortunately, the process is slow and cumbersome, which is why stories of degree forgery are frequent.

In recent years, colleges have moved to some form of digital transcripts where they send and receive official documents online. The American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers claim that two-thirds of institutions use electronic transcripts. However, these virtual transcripts are essentially electronic versions of paper documents, and are designed to be used just once by the recipient and are only as secure as they network they are sent on.

In comes blockchain technology. A blockchain is a data structure that makes it possible to create a digital ledger of transactions, such as the issuing of a certificate or a degree, and share it among a distributed network of computers.  It offers a radical departure from the current centralized transaction and record-keeping mechanisms, and rather than having paper-based records warehoused by institutions, credentials can be electronic assets owned by students and held within a virtual and verified network. Given the growing and disturbing number of data breaches, a secure network is increasingly important.

Learning history on a blockchain could be made available anytime, anywhere, and verified with colleges or employers without asking anyone or paying for them. This would make it easier and less time-consuming to create a personalized online hub to store credentials from a variety of sources and will likely accelerate the creation of micro-credentials.

Watch these videos for more discussion on the future of credentials and blockchain:


Navneet Johal

About Navneet Johal

Navneet Johal the Cloud and Innovation Solution Director for the Higher Education & Research industry business unit at SAP. She is responsible for market definition, go-to-market strategy, demand generation, awareness, knowledge building, and customer engagement while ensuring that the Industry Business Solution team continuously incubates new innovations.