September 23, 2021

SUNY Empire State College Receives Nearly $3 Million from U.S. Department of Education

Institute of Education Sciences Grant funding to develop recognized credentialing system for all learners — with or without degrees

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — September 23, 2021)  SUNY Empire State College today announced it has been awarded an Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grant through their “Transformative Research in the Education Sciences” program. SUNY Empire and selected partners will use the federal grant, totaling nearly $3 million over three years ($2,999,998.13), to develop a recognized incremental credentialing system for U.S. postsecondary education that will improve academic and labor-market outcomes for students.

For many learners, the only postsecondary credentials acknowledged in the workforce are college degrees. This focus on degrees largely ignores students who attend college but do not complete a traditional degree, often treating them as if they have no postsecondary-level learning. According to statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 36 million Americans fall into the “some college, no degree” population.

The initiative, “Credential as You Go: Transforming the Credentialing System of the U.S.,” will serve as a blueprint for colleges, universities, and higher-education systems to strategically develop and implement incremental credentials, such as short-term certificates, badges, and micro-credentials, for their students. This work builds upon a previous planning grant funded through Lumina Foundation. 

Nan Travers, Ph.D., director of SUNY Empire’s Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning, will lead the effort. She will be joined by a collaborative management team, including Larry Good of the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and Holly Zanville of the George Washington University Program on Skills, Credentials & Workforce Policy, as well as well as representatives from the State University of New York, the University of North Carolina System and the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The management team will coordinate institutional teams that bring expertise in areas including credentialing and curricular reform, state and institutional policy, and workforce development. A 100+-member national advisory board, representing postsecondary institutions and systems, industry, military, accreditors, philanthropy, and think tanks, will advise the project.

The project team will implement 90 incremental credentials at the undergraduate, graduate, and continuing-education levels at institutions within the State University of New York, University of North Carolina system, North Carolina Community College system, Colorado Community College system, and Colorado Department of Higher Education.

The team will then collect data on student access to, persistence in, and completion of postsecondary credentials, as well as produce a framework for institutions interested in implementing incremental credentials, policy change recommendations to facilitate incremental credentialing systems at postsecondary institutions, and a national marketing campaign to share strategies for postsecondary credentialing. 

The federal IES grant will fund 100 percent of the project. The grant period runs from September 1, 2021, to August 31, 2024.

Nathan Gonyea, Ph.D., officer in charge at SUNY Empire State College, said, “This grant underscores SUNY Empire State College’s decades of expertise in awarding college credit for prior learning — learning that goes beyond traditional transfer credit to include professional licensure and certifications, military training, standardized exams, and apprenticeships. The IES grant allows us to build upon and share that expertise, and to learn from experts nationwide, as we work to restructure the U.S. postsecondary education credentialing system and move toward a more equitable learn-and-work ecosystem.”

Nan Travers, Ph.D., director of SUNY Empire’s Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning, said, “We are thrilled to have been given this opportunity to provide clear credentialing pathways as an alternative to the current degree system for learners with no recognized post-secondary education — pathways that are authorized, encouraged, and supported at the federal, accreditation, state, system, and institutional levels. The goal is to empower more people to earn high-quality postsecondary credentials and to become less reliant on a legacy degree system that no longer adequately serves the needs of learners and employers.”

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said, “Once again SUNY is leading the transformation of higher education by helping to develop a rigorous system of non-degree credentialing to help supplement traditional degrees and provided additional opportunities for individuals to meet workforce demand. The IES grant aligns with our mission to get our students to where they want to go by helping to re-mold the U.S. postsecondary education structure to better fit the needs of all skill levels and learners. I congratulate SUNY Empire and Dr. Nan Travers for their continued innovation in this area.”