Comment on Credential or Certificate by Tom Haymes

This is a central dilemma of education I’ve been thinking about for years now. For those with a poor understanding of education, such as legislators and many employers, the degree serves as a useful proxy for what they think an education confers. Of course, as you point out, this risks becoming transactional in nature and misses the larger gifts that education brings. Ironically, it is usually those more intangible elements that dictate whether or not someone is successful in a job or career. I know many people with pieces of paper who are functionally incapable of responding to change or unexpected situations, for instance, because they have been trained on what is rather than what could be.

As a political scientist who is now a college administrator responsible for technology, I have strayed far from what my credentials supposedly dictate. That is because I have constantly relied on the intangible elements of what my über liberal arts education bestowed on me. I’ve also never stopped learning (another key trait from that buffet of learning that is a liberal arts education). However, I don’t have “credentials” to do the job I am doing. This worries me at times but then I look at what benefit I might get from going out and getting those “credentials” and they are marginal at best.

I look at my students, and even more so my own children, and wonder what I should be telling them to do. There are two worlds emerging today: The more traditional one that values who you are based on pieces of paper and the Silicon Valley-inspired one that values what you can do more than what you are. Google increasingly doesn’t care about “credentials” in their hiring process. They want to know what you can bring to the company – how well-trained your brain is. A piece of paper doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that. However, I think Google is still very much the exception to the rule even if it may be the trend of the future. The question is how long this kind cultural transformation will take (or if it is a false start).

We’re trying some new things at HCC to complement the traditional paper degree plans. They’re just getting off the ground and a lot of people are having trouble wrapping their heads around concepts such as a MakerSpace (“Can you run Workforce programs out of that thing?”) or a Collaboratorium (“How many sections will you teach in there?”). We’ll see how things go but it should be an interesting few years as we spool these things up. The one thing they have in common is that they really aren’t focused so much on credentialing as they are on creating unexpected opportunities for learning and growth