Communicating the Value of Competencies

By Deborah Everhart, Deb Bushway, and David Schejbal – Published 2016 in American Council on EducationSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

Here we summarize an American Council on Education (ACE) report published in 2016 that is still prescient today. “Communicating the Value of Competencies” (herein referred to as CVC) is a companion piece to another prescient ACE report published in 2016, titled “Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials.”

CVC calls for clearly defining, articulating, and sharing the evidence of competencies/learning and the ultimate value of higher education credentials among students, employers, educators, and governmental agencies. 

CVC points to several unique perspectives that define the structure of credential competencies, including:

  • Lumina’s Connecting Credentials Framework
  • NILOA’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP)
  • U.S. Department of Education’s Employability Skills Framework
  • The Department of Labor’s Competency Model Clearinghouse
  • ACE’s Learning Evaluations (formerly CREDIT)

Employers don’t obtain clear-cut indicators from higher education concerning the competencies gained by students who complete a credential. ACE conducted a survey on this bottleneck that was answered by 53 employers of varied size, from one to 50,000 employees.  Some of the findings from this survey were:

  • A job candidate’s education transcripts were not assessed to determine competencies.
  • Open-ended responses to questions during job candidate interviews were relied upon for decision making more than competency assessments.
  • A job candidate’s earned credential type and the institution where credential was earned were typically categorized as “doesn’t matter” or “some of the time.”

The ACE survey led to a focus group that also addressed the bottleneck. Focus group participants were from “national education and industry organizations, including the Department of Education.” Some of the findings that came out of the focus group were:

  • Higher education could increase their efforts to establish relationships with employers, including the further development of apprenticeships, internships, and workplace learning environments.
  • While the survey indicated that employers were typically not so interested in where a job candidate earned a credential, the focus group had an opposite point of view and did consider that aspect of a credential important.  
  • Higher education needs to assist students with knowing how to identify and relay to employers the specific competencies their transcripts represent.
  • Portfolios were seen by employers as useful.
  • Stackable credentials were identified as having value.
  • Badges were identified as being relevant.

Additional insights into this overall topic of clearly defining, articulating, and sharing the evidence of competencies/learning and the ultimate value of any credential can be found in much of the literature about competency-based education programs and initiatives. For example, see: 

In a section of CVC headlined “Faculty and Academic Programs,” it’s explained how developing a well-defined framework that conveys relevant competencies within a discipline can be a difficult process that involves the perspectives of a wide variety of stakeholders. For example, a well-defined framework typically consists of competencies, sub-competencies, and assessments that apply to academic progress and career goals.  All these elements must be understood by all stakeholders. 

Who are all the stakeholders? CVC listed them as follows:

  • Government Agencies – State legislators seek ways to bolster local economies by collaborating  with higher education to enhance credential attainment that effectively aligns with regional and community workplaces.  
  • Higher Ed Leaders and Administrators – They analyze and make decisions about how credentials at their respective institutions line up with career readiness. 
  • Faculty Members – They deliver the curriculum and provide expertise related to competencies. 
  • Students – The most important stakeholders who enroll in the programs that are supposed to effectively teach them the competencies that best serve their future careers. 
  • Employers – Their interest lies in ensuring that competencies taught address their needs. 

The CVC report concluded with a call to action, noting that the “value of competencies will differ widely across our diverse higher education institutions. . .” In addition, “dialogue can start among higher education colleagues and branch out to labor market partners. State bodies can play an important facilitative role in furthering this dialogue using their influence across education, workforce, and economic development.”