INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation has released a report focusing on the quality of postsecondary credentials. The report, Unlocking the Nation's Potential: A Model to Advance Quality and Equity in Education Beyond High School, is the result of a year of research by the foundation's Quality Credentials Task Force. Debra Humphreys, vice president of strategic engagement for Lumina and co-chair of the task force, says the group aimed to find clarity on what quality really looks like for all kinds of learning after high school.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Humphreys said the report breaks new ground in trying to articulate a broad vision of quality that can take account for a wide array of credentials.

"Many people, when they think about any learning opportunity beyond high school, they tend to think pretty narrowly about traditional college degrees and those are still really important and if they are of high quality and really if their outcomes are aligned to today's opportunities, they can really open up all kinds of good outcomes for students," said Humphreys. "But there are alternative pathways to other kinds of learning opportunities and other kinds of credentials beyond high school and fewer people know about those pathways. But also, we don't have a robust enough system in place to really make sure that every single one of those pathways is actually a high-quality learning pathway."

The task force was created after foundation officials found that the mechanisms to assure the quality from credentials, including college degrees and industry certifications, were not up to date. Humphreys says they were not aligned with the new landscape of credentials or the needs of today's students.

Humphreys says the task force felt there needs to be a framework to serve as an umbrella for all kinds of credentials so that the system could be knitted together. She says that could include some people seeking other forms of postsecondary education outside of traditional college or others wanting to "upskill" and build upon the credentials they already have.

"That was one of the purposes of this project and one of the recommendations that we made, which is that we need to have a system that assures quality of all credentials and also helps us build pathways between and among the credentials."

Humphreys says the most interesting new ground broken in the report is the relationship between quality and equity among credentials.

"Some people tend to falsely believe that those are two different things and that you can do one without the other; we think the opposite," Humphreys said. "We think that if we have a system that has high-quality learning, but only provides that high-quality learning to our most privileged citizens, then that system just isn't really where we need it to be. And, on the flip side, we don't want to pursue a goal of closing equity gaps in terms of attaining credentials by giving lower-quality credentials to some students."

Humphreys says the foundation's hope is that the report begins a national dialogue about the changing landscape of credentialing, today's students and the economy. The task force itself was made up of nearly two dozen education, policy and workforce leaders. Humphreys says representatives from all of those sectors need to come together to try to advance reforms to align the credentialing system with today's reality.

She adds another goal is to better articulate who needs to do what in terms of assuring quality.

"To realize our shared vision of a model of quality and, ultimately, a more equitable higher learning system will require commitment and collaboration from many individuals and institutions," Michelle Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy and member of the task force, said in a news release. "No single actor or sector can design, build, implement, and maintain the student-centered quality assurance system we believe is necessary and long overdue. We must all work together—and urgently—because all students deserve access to high-quality educational programs that lead to meaningful opportunity."

You can view the full report by clicking here.