Efforts to build a system where all learning counts are gaining momentum across states, higher education systems, workforce development agencies, employers, and the military. These innovations, however, often happen in pockets or silos. They rarely span sectors to create a comprehensive statewide system that is consistent, transparent, and easy for students to navigate. States are uniquely equipped to bring these systems to fruition by guiding their development through policy and regulation.
This policy toolkit seeks to support states in these efforts. It is a part of a growing movement to create statewide systems of recognizing and credentialing high-quality postsecondary learning that occurs outside of traditional colleges and universities. Such efforts promise to expand opportunities for academic and career advancement, meet growing demand for jobs in new sectors, and dismantle barriers to economic and social mobility.
A Focus on Equity
The shortcomings of our current system disproportionately affect individuals whose learning occurs in a variety of non-classroom settings. Most degree and credential pathways reward traditional in-class learning, privileging students who take more traditional paths while reinforcing barriers for those historically not well served by postsecondary institutions. The result is persistent inequities and lower educational attainment for many–especially adult learners, first generation students, veterans, and Black, Latinx, and Native American learners. Their educational success is determined not by their skills or knowledge but by our systems’ ability to recognize it.
Our guidance comes amidst long-overdue efforts to address the effects of racism and injustice. By creating a system where all learning counts, we can enable flexible, affordable, and efficient pathways to college and career success. The result, we hope, will be a system that prevents unnecessary and unjust barriers from getting in the way of the most important outcome of any educational journey: learning itself.
A Focus on Economic Resilience
The same shortcomings that perpetuate inequities also leave our system vulnerable to economic crises and unable to adapt to rapidly changing workforce needs. Our inability to help students apply valuable knowledge and skills towards new credentials leaves those in declining industries stuck without a clear path to a stable and rewarding career. Similarly, the challenges students face when changing, pausing, or restarting their educational pursuits causes too many to lose momentum or stop all together when faced with changing life circumstances. In short, the postsecondary education system is ill-equipped to bolster our economy and support the most vulnerable among us during times of change and turmoil.
As the United States looks to address the economic fallout from a global pandemic, it is clear that our system is not nearly as adaptable as it needs to be. By creating a system where all learning counts, we are also creating a more resilient system able to consistently provide learners with pathways to valuable careers, regardless of changing life circumstances or economic realities.
About Research for Action
Research for Action (RFA) is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit education research organization. RFA seeks to use research as the basis for the improvement of educational opportunities and outcomes for traditionally underserved students. Our work is designed to strengthen public schools and postsecondary institutions; provide research-based recommendations to policy-makers, practitioners, and the public at the local, state and national levels; and enrich the civic and community dialogue about public education. Please visit our website to learn more about us and our projects: www.researchforaction.org.
RFA’s postsecondary portfolio focuses on comparative, large-scale studies of state policy and policy reform. RFA compares how states govern, support, reform and utilize the postsecondary sector; and examines how multiple initiatives operating within and across states affect the overall state postsecondary policy landscape. Importantly, RFA utilizes mixed methods to examine how policy development, design and implementation vary across states, and how contextual factors can affect the efficacy of these policies. RFA’s goal is to provide those on the front lines of postsecondary policy—state policymakers and institutional leaders—with practical insights and concrete lessons learned. Built upon strong relationships in the states we study, RFA’s work combines rigorous research methods with the first-hand experience our staff brings from state government, college and university teaching, and postsecondary administration. With a focus on access, success, and equity, RFA’s postsecondary work ranges from large-scale analyses of state- and system-level postsecondary policy to in-depth examination of changes in institutional culture and practice.
About the All Learning Counts State Policy Toolkit
The All Learning Counts State Policy Toolkit was developed under the leadership of Dr. Kate Shaw and Dr. Kate Callahan. The research team included Dr. Virginia Hunter, Dr. Victoria Ballerini, Dan Kent, Shanell Hagood, Montrell Sanders, and Matthew Rigsby.
This Toolkit was made possible by funding from the Lumina Foundation. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Lumina Foundation, its officers, or its employees.
This Toolkit is based on a comprehensive set of data and information sources. We conducted systematic reviews of state legislation and policy to ensure accuracy of information and to identify innovative practices at the state level. These analyses were checked and refined via numerous interviews with leaders in state government, higher education, and stakeholder organizations, including: University of Kansas, CISCO Academy, Colorado Department of Higher Education, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Kansas Board of Regents, District 1199-C Training and Upgrading Fund, Colorado Community College System, National Skills Coalition, Southern New Hampshire University, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), Central Iowa HealthWorks, Trident Technical College, Apprenticeship Carolina, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Credential Engine, Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), Amazon, New Jersey Department of Labor, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), JEVS Human Services, Sinclair Community College, American Council on Education (ACE), Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc., Mountwest Community and Technical College, Colorado Workforce Development Council, Multi-state Collaborative on Military Credit, Johnson County Community College, Washington Department of Corrections, Colorado Department of Corrections, and Florida College System. We thank them for their generosity in sharing their time and expertise with us.
Special gratitude to leaders and staff in the following state agencies for their feedback on this document: Alabama Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce, Career Connect Washington, Colorado Department of Higher Education, Florida Department of Education, Kentucky Center for Statistics, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Ohio Department of Higher Education, Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Washington State Education Research and Data Center, and Washington Student Achievement Council.
About No Time to Waste: Standards for Statewide Crosswalks That Ensure All Learning Counts
In April of 2020, Lumina Foundation asked a national working group knowledgeable in credit for prior learning, outcomes assessment, and standards for the transfer and award of college credit to recommend a system level solution to prevent credit loss, loss of federal level funding and enable institutions with the ability to validate competencies more rapidly through statewide crosswalks. Using these recommendations for higher education leaders, state government agencies and policymakers, states may work to integrate these previously disconnected learning systems and ensure that post-secondary achievement is accessible to all students regardless of background, age, economic status or race. This guidance – drawn from leaders who are already proving that change is possible – provides a blueprint that can strengthen our communities through greater economic sustainability for future generations. Members of the working group included:
Natasha Jankowski, Consultant, Assessment Success
Kim Poast, Chief Student Success and Academic Affairs Officer, Colorado Department of Higher Education
Lynette Nickleberry Steward, Assistant Professor, SUNY Empire State College
Marjorie Price, Consultant for Competency Mapping and Credit for Prior Learning, Price Talent Shop
Tom Green, Associate Executive Director, Consulting and SEM, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers