What is a microcredential?
A microcredential is smaller than a minor, certificate or degree and narrower in focus. They are 6-12 credits in length. For example, a microcredential could be three courses in length (9 credits). Microcredentials are designed to help students meet academic and career goals and to help them stand‐out in a competitive job market. They are intentionally explicit about skills and competencies mastered. UWM’s policy addresses credit-bearing microcredentials; however, the UWM School of Continuing Education offers noncredit microcredentials as well. See the Taxonomy of Terms for relevant definitions.
UWM Credit-Bearing Microcredentials: Guiding Principles
Academically rigorous microcredentials promise advantages for students, programs and the wider community. Based on the experiences of other national early adopters, UWM expects microcredentials to retain existing students by motivating them to complete their degrees, satisfy industry demand for specialized training and workforce development, specify how students can contribute to their communities, make cultural competencies more visible and valuable, and give more people more opportunities for lifelong learning.
The following principles will guide the design and implementation of new microcredentials at UWM. (modified from SUNY (https://system.suny.edu/academic-affairs/microcredentials/)
- Academic quality is paramount for microcredentials.
- Microcredentials are developed through established faculty governance processes.
- Microcredentials designed to meet market and community needs should be informed by current data from appropriate contexts and align with relevant standards whenever possible.
- Microcredentials can provide opportunities for industry/community/education connections and partnerships.
- Microcredentials can be a complement to traditional credentials (certificate, diploma, degree or post-graduate certificate) or stand alone.
- Microcredentials are secure, trackable, portable beyond the institution, and competency is documented in students’ academic records.
- Stackable microcredentials are highly encouraged (multiple microcredentials lead to credit bearing coursework, a more advanced badge or a registered certificate or degree).
The following graphic illustrates how microcredentials can be stacked to create new pathways through existing or new curricula.
How do I start developing a microcredential?
Start the microcredential development process by considering three factors: 1) fit within your program; 2) quality; and 3) market demand.
Fit. Courses that meet the following criteria would be a good fit as a microcredential:
- Does the proposed microcredential focus on a clear set of competencies?
- Do the competencies align with the Career Readiness competencies as defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers? Career Readiness competencies include the following:
- Career and Self-Development
- Critical Thinking
- Equity and Inclusion
Note that while the microcredential policy recommends identifying which of the above competencies relate to a microcredential, it is not a requirement. For more on the NACE Career Readiness competencies, see https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2021/resources/nace-career-readiness-competencies-revised-apr-2021.pdf.
- Can the microcredential be ‘stackable’ with another microcredential (or microcredentials) to count toward a certificate or degree? Again, this is not a requirement, but it is a best practice.
- Are the courses in the microcredential offered on a regular basis?
- Would the microcredential count toward a degree? Given university goals to minimize credits to degree, this is an important consideration.
Quality. Academically rigorous microcredentials promise advantages for students, programs, and the wider community. Based on the experiences of other national early adopters, UWM expects microcredentials to retain existing students by motivating them to complete their degrees, satisfy industry demand for specialized training and workforce development, specify how students can contribute to their communities, make cultural competencies more visible and valuable, and give more people more opportunities for lifelong learning. As is the case for UWM’s degrees and certificates, academic quality is paramount for microcredentials. They are developed through established faculty governance processes and are comprised of courses that have been vetted through curricular governance processes.
Demand. Microcredentials designed to meet market and community needs should be informed by current data from appropriate contexts and align with relevant standards whenever possible. They can provide opportunities for industry/community/education connections and partnerships. UWM microcredential developers can access Lightcast market data by contacting Laura Pedrick at email@example.com .
How many credits/courses are in a microcredential?
UWM microcredentials can be 6-12 credits in length and must include 2 or more courses.
Are microcredentials available at both undergraduate and graduate levels?
Yes, A microcredential cluster must be earned either at the undergraduate or graduate level. An undergraduate cluster may include credit earned at the graduate level, but a graduate cluster must only include courses taken at the graduate level. Note that graduate credit earned by undergraduates can only transfer into subsequent graduate degrees under limited circumstances. Credit for clusters also may be earned through the credit for prior learning (CPL) process according to the Prior Learning Assessment Policy. No more than 3 credits of independent study can be included in any microcredential.
What is the approval process?
Undergraduate microcredentials go through the Academic Program and Curriculum Committee (APCC), while graduate microcredentials go through the Graduate Curriculum Committee (GCC). Credit-bearing microcredentials are considered “submajors” for the purposes of Academic Approval Matrix, and they must be approved according to the process specified for “Establish sub-major or certificate program.” Interdisciplinary clusters can combine courses from multiple departments or programs, but one sponsoring unit must be designated as the administrative and governance home.
The table below outlines steps in the approval process, which follows the “Establish sub-major or certificate program” path in the Academic Approval Matrix:
|Microcredential Approval Process
|1. A proposal is developed that meets the requirements of the Microcredential policy.
|2. To facilitate curricular approval of your microcredential, please complete the following steps:
|3. The proposal is approved at the department or equivalent level. Note: School or college approval must involve approval of appropriate faculty bodies within the school/college.
|4. The proposal is approved at the school or college level. Note: Academic Affairs will also circulate proposals to all other schools/colleges, with copies to the University Committee, and allow 14 days for response. Evidence of such solicitation and any responses must accompany submission of proposals to APCC or Graduate Faculty Committee and when appropriate the Faculty Senate.
|5. The proposal is approved by the APCC (undergraduate microcredentials) or the GCC (graduate microcredentials).
|6. The proposal is sent to the Provost for final approval.
Best Practices in Microcredential Design
- Do not use an existing course, certificate, or degree title in naming the microcredential.
- Use frequently taught courses in the microcredential.
- Avoid a cafeteria-style approach (e.g., “select one course from the following 5 courses”), to the extent possible.
- Focus on skills See NACE Career readiness competencies, above).
- Embed within an existing certificate or degree—avoid microcredentials that could add to time to degree.
- Design for stackability (e.g., a certificate made up of two microcredentials, or a master’s program with three 9-credit microcredentials plus a capstone course).
- Use the following syllabus statement in all courses that comprise the microcredential:
- This course can be taken toward completion of the “X” microcredential (add link to catalog or web page). To learn more about the “X” mixcrocredential, contact me or your advisor. For more information on how to receive a badge that recognizes your attainment of the competencies associated with this microcredential, see https://uwm.edu/badging/recipients/.
How should my department publicize microcredentials?
Market microcredentials through your departmental website, as well as any related program home page. Reach out to prospective students by adding information on the microcredential to your comm flow in Slate and ensure that departmental/program advisors know about the microcredential. Note that the University is planning to launch a student-facing microcredential web page when there are sufficient microcredentials launched to promote them collectively.
Badging refers to the issuing, receiving, and distributing of digital badges that signify some accomplishment on the part of the recipient. The badge itself is a visual representation of that achievement or accomplishment. The digital nature of badges allows them to be easily shared by earners, who can choose whether and how to distribute their received badges—on social media and websites, for example.
Digital badges are used by programs to signify the earning of a microcredential. (Note that badges can also be used for non-credit offerings and for professional development, but here the focus is on badging as it relates to credit-bearing microcredentials.)
Badging and microcredentialing are sometimes (mistakenly) used interchangeably, but there is an important difference between these two terms. Badging is how an achievement is recognized; microcredentialing is what students need to do to earn that achievement.
When badges are distributed through social media networks, such as LinkedIn, students are able to showcase particular areas of strength and competency to prospective employers.
Creating a Badge for a Microcredential. When a microcredential is approved by a university-level curriculum committee (APCC or GCC), Academic Affairs is notified and the identified microcredential contact person will receive an email on next steps in creating a badge, including access to design templates and development of metadata (data that underlies the digital image, such as the issuer, associated competencies, and whether the badge has an expiration period). Additional information for badge issuers is at https://uwm.edu/badging/issuers/.
In addition to being listed on the transcript, microcredentials are recognized with the awarding of digital badges that can be promoted on LinkedIn and other career networking sites.
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