by Waverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President, Workforce and Economic Innovation

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the total six-year completion rate for students who started at a two-year public institution in Fall 2010 is 39.3%1. What are the next steps for the 60.7% of non-completers? What happens to individuals who have not enrolled in College or have not enrolled in college-level courses? Are these individuals prepared for the workforce? What are their options? One strategy currently being tested at Community College of Philadelphia is to engage targeted populations of students in the use of micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials are small or mini credentials or certificates that focus on specific skills. Micro-credentials change the focus from what is studied to what is learned. They place an emphasis on the demonstration of knowledge and skills acquired. Micro-credentials allow students to experience feelings of accom- plishment and success in short periods of time. Our expectation is that consistent completion and earning of micro-credentials will lead to positive motivation and continued per- sistence along select academic pathways.

The micro-credentials project at the College targets the “hard- est to serve” populations, including out-of-school youth (16-24 years old); underemployed; unemployed; and individuals with low levels of literacy or other barriers to employment, such as individuals with a disability, veterans and ex-offenders. The ini- tial groups targeted by our micro-credentials project included students who were unsuccessful at passing the placement test after multiple attempts, students unsuccessful at advancing from developmental education courses to college-level courses, individuals in the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS), Gateway to College, Adult Basic Education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL) and General Equivalency Diploma (GED) programs.

The micro-credentials project aligns with four of the College’s academic pathways and six degree programs. The four academic pathways are Health Care; Science and Technology; Design, Construction and Transportation; and Business, Entrepreneurship and Law. The six degree programs are Dental Hygiene; Health Care Studies; Applied Science and Engineering Technology; Automotive Technology; Accounting; and Technical Studies.

Our project consists of four phases. Phase one focuses on basic workforce readiness skills. During phase two, participants enroll Micro-credentials by Waverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President, Workforce and Economic Innovation Guided Pathways at Community College of Philadelphia Micro-credentials change the focus from what is studied to what is learned. They place an emphasis on the demonstration of knowledge and skills acquired. in short-term noncredit occupational skills training in programs that are included in Philadelphia’s High Priority Occupation (HPO) list2. Updated annually, the HPO list documents occupations for which there are real jobs available now. In phase three, participants transition from noncredit programs to credit proficiency certificate programs. In the fourth phase, students continue their education by completing an associate degree program. Grant funding covers the costs associated with phases one and two3. Students are expected to apply for federal financial aid, scholarships and other forms of student aid as they advance beyond phase two of this project.

The innovative aspect of this project is the earning of microcredentials and the awarding of digital badges. The majority of micro-credentials for our project are earned during the first phase, which was developed based on feedback from area employers. Employers tell us they have several jobs available but are unable to find employees with the skills needed to fill the jobs. “There were 28,630 web advertised job opening in Philadelphia city in August.4” Specifically, employers tell us that a major reason individuals are unsuccessful in gaining and maintaining employment is because they lack “soft skills.” At the same time, according to data from Philadelphia Works Inc., there are about 47,611 unemployed adults in Philadelphia5. This is known as the skills gap.

The soft skills problem is addressed during the first phase, which consists of nine programs. Completion of all nine programs earns participants nine micro-credentials and four digital badges. Students who demonstrate Essential Computer Skills earn a Technology digital badge. To earn a Technology digital badge students must first earn micro-credentials for Keyboarding and Computer Skills Development, Introduction to Computers and the Internet, and Introduction to Microsoft Word.

Students who demonstrate Collaboration and Problem Solving Skills earn a Teamwork digital badge. To earn a Teamwork digital badge, students must first earn micro-credentials for Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Working in Teams.

Students who demonstrate skills for Writing and Speaking at Work earn a Communication digital badge, which thy are awarded after earning micro-credentials for Email Etiquette, Writing Skills and Interpersonal Communications.

When students earn a digital badge for Technology, Teamwork and Communication, they are ready to work and thus earn the fourth digital badge, which is named Ready to Work. The beauty of digital badges is that they can be included on résumés as a web link. Prospective employers can click the link to see certificates earned and the acquired skills associated with each badge.

Ready to work is a reference to having the minimum soft skills needed to work on a job. In many cases technical skills are also needed. As students move from phase one to phase two, they can choose to enroll in one of several skills training programs. Students interested in health care can select the Nurse Aide, Dental Assistant or Pharmacy Technician training programs. Students interested in the automotive field can train in Braking, Steering or Emissions and Safety Inspection. Students interested in advanced manufacturing can train in CNC Precision Machining, Electromechanical/ Mechatronics Technology; Blueprint Reading; Gas Distribution Pipeline Mechanic and Welding. Students interested in business and technology can select from the College’s Bookkeeping; QuickBooks; Microsoft Office Specialist, Customer Service and Call Center Representative training programs.

The following quote from Thomas Carlyle summarizes the underlying assumption of this project: “Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”

As students earn micro-credentials they build self-esteem and self-confidence which lead to accomplishment and completion.