Embedding Microcredentials Within Existing Degree Programs at The University of North Texas

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Adam Fein, Chief Information Officer at University of North Texas joins the podcast to talk about embedding microcredentials within our degree programs, and whether or not microcredentials are an existential threat to higher education or its wonderful partner.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e D U podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Adam Fine, chief information officer at University of North Texas. Adam, welcome to the show. Thank you, Eric. It's great to be here. Really excited to have you here and to talk with you today about the pros and the cons of embedding micro credentials within our degree programs. But before we dig in, can you give the listeners a little background on University of North Texas and your role there? Sure? I am the vice president for Digital Strategy and Innovation and see I oh at the University of North Texas, which in a very short elevator speech, is that I am responsible for the university's digital transformation efforts. It seems like an easy, easy job. That's all. That's all. You do. Come on, we gotta, we gotta figure out something else. I've got a great tea and that's that's what I'll say. I love to hear that and so excited about the work that you're doing. Let's dig into it, Adam. is embedding micro credentials within our existing degree programs a good way to make our degree programs even better? I think so, yes, and I'll give you a couple of reasons why. And there you know, people use the term micro credential really broadly. I think. I think there there are some specifics that are important here, but I'll just say the answer is yes, and I think the simple answer is I think it's important that higher education not be just all or nothing, that is to say that we have our students pay tuition and you know, you could pay...

...tuition for three and a half years and not quite make it to your degree and you you don't have anything to show for what was probably quite a lot of work and quite a lot of learning. So I love the idea of checkpoints throughout the way that help our students kind of be able to acknowledge what they've learned and to be able to show that to future employers. So I'm pretty bullish on the idea of micro credentials, particularly those related to what I like to call program level micro credentials versus within the course micro credentials, and I'm glad to talk more about that. Yeah, I love that, both your bullsh about it and and obviously the institution is as well. At U N T you accept some micro credentials, like Courserra's certificates, for credit towards your bachelor's degrees. Why do you do this? So more specifically, we and we're leaning into this more so it may expand. We hope to expand it, but right now you're right, we will accept some of the courser are certificates from certain companies that have been vetted by the American Council on Education. We're aced. So the Google certificates, the IBM, the Meta, there are a few others for credit into our Batchel's completion program on course, Sarah. We do this because this the audience for this Batcheli's completion degree is largely adult, has largely had a few adventures in higher education and we want to acknowledge that as part of the degree. Can't just be, you know, Uncle Ed's courts on this or that, but when, when we we take a really comprehensive look at a student's transcripts and we think that it's more than just course here from this university, of course there from that university, that something from a well known company like, say, like Google, military credit, technical credit from well respected companies is absolutely a part of what the knowledge you need to have a batchelor's degree and no need to to make someone...

...start over the journey. And so that's exactly why we we call the degree flexible because we think it's it's it's one of the most flexible batchels completion degrees that we've seen. So when you look at the micro credential industry, Corsera is currently one of the bigger players. Their Career Academy is specifically targeted at institutions with the desire to have more institutions like yours bolts on micro credentials within their existing degree programs. Do you personally see Corsera as more likely to be a threat to higher education core its partner? I love that question actually, because it's an important question and I think you know even just this is a fast moving conversation. So I would even say five years ago. I think a lot of folks in higher education we're wondering that, hey is is Amazon just going to do this without us? It's going to do this without us, potentially Corsera without at us. But if you look where we are here today in two that's just not what's playing out. It's really a partnership between these companies and the universities and the companies and I think personally for the consumer, for the student, that's that's an ideal scenario. That is to say that you know, of Courserah chose to work with both university partners and industry partners. There's a big company called guild that is working, you know, as as signed on Walmart, target Disney, other huge companies, and they are they're not saying, hey, we're going to help Disney provide to Disney, or guild to provide to Disney. They connect, you know, say Oregon State or produe to the Disney and the Walmart. Because I think what companies have seen is, hey, there's some things we can do well. There's some training on Amazon specific things, for example, that we can do well, but we we are not maybe the best to give our employees an Amazon Bachelor's completion program why don't we work with the University of North Texas for...

...that, because they've got this great program and actually that's that's one of the examples we are doing that. We are an Amazon Career Choice Academy University, the only four year institution in DFW, and we're hard at work on trying to connect their thirty seven thousand employees in the DFW area to to our degrees. And so I think it's a both and and I'm really glad it's going to be a both and and not in either or. So No, I don't see it as a threat. I think it's the best of both worlds. This rise in the interests of micro credentials over the last decade appears to come from the desire to create a qualified, a market ready workforce as immediately as possible to benefit both employers and our students. How do you think about this concept? Making sure that we're focused on making our students as effective entry level workers as possible, or should we be aiming much broader and much longer term than that in our degree programs? Another great question, I think. So I'll use this opportunity to go back to what I said earlier about when I think about as program micro credentials versus in course micro credentials. So something that's not new is the interesting relationship between higher education and Industry, and we know that at times it's been a frustrating one. That is to say that higher ed would maybe attempt to try to teach students some skills that would be favorable to industry, but what industry wanted would change a lot and then industry would be frustrated higher education that we don't move quickly enough or slow and adapting to working in the latest and greatest skills to our, you know, hundred and fifty year old curriculums, etcetera, Etcetera. Both groups had some real legitimacy to the complaints about each other. And so what I love about what I'll call the programs specific micro credentials, and let's take an example that we...

...use before, let's say, accepting the google I t certificate as part of the Bachelor's completion program or one of the concentrations that makes up that degree, is because that content we're bringing in, content that both U N T and Google has said Hey, this is high quality content and it fits what we think needs to make up a well rounded bachelor's degree. It's not saying, and this is the comparison here to the in course, that the micro credential, let's say in a particular course, says you've got a leadership skill or you've got a management skill. Now I'm not I'm not totally against those. I don't think they're they're worthless. But if I'm an employer and you know these five applicants have all taken courses from five different universities and they all took courses that gives them a micro credential or say a badge that says I took a course that you know taught me the leadership skills or the management skill or the group facilitation skill, how does that set anybody apart from anybody else where? We're back at square one. And look, those skills are important, but I think those those were already there, that that's not as valuable to me and or I think a company to just say, okay, this employee's got that. It's no different than writing that on a resume. But saying something like Hey, I've got this degree from U N T. I took courses in information technology and by the way. Part of that was actual Google tools that I can use and do right now for your company. Already know how to do that and and since your company uses the Google Suite, I'm trained. I have a degree, I'm trained on day one. That is powerful stuff. And again, you know the whole idea of that. Maybe I learned it halfway through and I can tell you about that. Maybe you know not. Just wait to the end, if you will, so I can put my I can put my google I t badge up before I finished my unt Bachelor's and eventually I'm gonna have both there, which is a double...

...great signal to an employer. Then that's a win, and so that's, I think, why. That is how I think we finally actualize some of what has been on real problem for decades about the not that industry and I are not exactly being on the same page. We just again both and we do it together rather than always keeping it up. Yeah, and I think you just explained a really good micro credentials plus degree program is a win, win win for everybody, for student, employer, for college. Let's go to the students specific perspective for a minute. So my daughter's eleven already stressed about college. I promise I didn't project those anxieties, and intentionally on her at least. But she's thinking about it. I'm thinking about it too. I feel like I have insider information. I can help her navigate this. I'm aware of Guild's chipotle program I'm aware she can go to, you know, to target and go to Arizona State for free. There's a lot of interesting options for her. If we try to think about what this looks like, if you can put your nostre Damas hat on for a minute, if a coursera certificates can get her a pretty good entry level job earlier and cheaper, within the first nine months of her being eighteen years old, why would she even choose college at all, or at least sequentially? would she of course, choose coursera first and then see what happens? You know what? I have a so I have a thirteen year old, fifteen year old and also everything the same as what you just said. I there they're starting to think about us, think about I do have some insider information and and you know, I really think that the landscape is changing in that way. So I think both are so I think both can be truth and that is why, so for our degree, you can get that certificate and just go work for a while and then transferred in, or you can take it as part of the program altogether. So this way we give those students options. I totally understand, hey, let's go out and get that thousand dollar job now,...

...in a year after high school, if you so choose, if that's what you want to do, and then later on when you realize, and I think this is the bigger answer to why you would still want to go to college. I mean, that's gonna get you that first job. It's not necessarily move you up the chain, even with some advanced certificates. What you learn in college that some of the the well rounded individual skills, the soft skills, the working together on teams. A lot of data still show, like, for example, the Luminum Foundation put this out a couple of years ago, a person still makes two point eight million dollars over the course of their lifetime with the bachelors them without a Bachelors, and I think it's because you gain a lot of those other skills that will help you move up, not just because Google is teaching you like that certificately. that I t certificate, for example, and there's there are others, like the project management in the UX that are really high quality, but it teaches you some very specific skill set. You can go to that company and go to Google or some other company that uses that suite. You can use those tools and you can do it well. It may not, but when it's time to manage a group of people doing that, that that certificate is and teach you anything about that. You know, some business courses will teach you about that. Now you can say maybe a piece together, you know, seven certificates from all over the place. Hey, if that works, more prior to that student. But I don't think we're quite there yet. And so bringing that in as part of a more well rounded degree where you and let me mention this too, because it's a huge where you're interacting with people from other companies, other disciplines, other ethnicities, other ages. That diversity of thought very difficult to find outside of our education and it's so important if you ever want to move up and realize I've got to manage a team and there's a bunch of people that are different than me. How do I know how to do that? How do I navigate that. So I think that's why the both and the both, and that it's the industry and higher education coming together, is the right choice. I also think, and you made a great point,...

...you know, whether it's for your daughter or my son's or whoever else out there hey do, you don't have to do it all at once. Let's give the student those options to do what's right for them. Some people want to go right to college. I want to do that thing. Some people don't. Fine, let's not punish them for that. Let's let's have options for them. Adam love the various perspectives you gave us today. I love the realism, I love the optimism. Leave us with some next steps. Advice for institutions listening, thinking about, or have been considering embedding, bolting on micro credentials within their existing degree programs. Nervous if that signals the beginning of the end for their institution and if they're entering into this existential threat. Pull them back off the cliff, help them think better about this challenge. Yeah, I think the number one advice, and this is this. Maybe this is fairly obvious to to educators. Otherwise maybe we wouldn't be in education. But listen to your students. I mean I have an undergraduate innovation advisory board and a graduate innovation about your board and I don't feel like I can be the best of my job if I don't understand what's working for them and what's not working for them. This came from the students and maybe at times their parents, but they they want their their children and they want, as individuals, to go out and, of course, be a better individual, to to to to understand diversity and understand new perspectives and multiple perspectives that maybe you didn't grow up with. But they also want to get a job and make money and start a family and that's hard to do if you if you, if you're the credential that you earned doesn't get you there. And so, you know, it's very nice for our students to be able to say, you know, I've got a great degree from the University of North Texas. I also have skills from IBM and Google, just like an internship does, and maybe that's another piece of this. I've got the skills from Google and I intern at JP Morgan Chase where I use those tools from Google and I used all the classes learning about mathematics and psychology and other things to make me, you know, a young, budding leader in this organization,...

...and so I think I don't think we have to see it as a threat. You know, and I'm mostly speaking from the perspective of larger public higher education, I realize it's different from some other institutions, but for a public university, I think it's it's a good time to be in public high education because the companies did choose to do both, and I think then the advices find a partner that you can trust. First of all, if you happen to be in a metroplex or or an area with a lot of industry, you don't have to partner with anybody. Just just go out and talk to those companies directly. We've got a whole bunch of partnerships direct and then, if needed or in addition, to find a great partner like, course, Sarah to that that has over two thousand companies they're partnered with, and you don't need to partner with all of them. We can't. None of those can do at all. But together, you know, maybe your your university partners with five or ten companies that that are good fit for the programs you have and start to build chunks of the information into the as disciplines that are in the areas that are creating more career ready students. I think that's that's a good model to follow. Adam, thank you so much of your time and your thoughts today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions? Eric, I'm pretty active on Linkedin. Just it's just me Adam fine at the University of North Texas. I love connecting with people on their talking shop what's next for digital transformation and higher education and I love to to have those conversations in that space. So that's a good place to find me. Awesome, Adam, thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you appreciate the time and opportunity. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth play...

...buck with brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix Education Dot Com. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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