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Podcast highlight: Behind the scenes of Oregon State’s successful microcredential initiative

Scenic image of the black entrance sign to Oregon State University with trees in the background

A discussion on Oregon State’s collaborative efforts to offer microcredentials online while prioritizing access and affordability

As universities work to meet the needs of today’s learners, higher education leaders are emphasizing increased accessibility in the form of innovative educational pathways. To achieve this, many institutions are developing alternative credentials — and creating a culture of collaboration across campus in the process.

On an episode of the Modern Campus “Illumination” podcast, Lisa L. Templeton, vice provost of Oregon State University’s Division of Educational Ventures, spoke with Amrit Ahluwalia, the Modern Campus senior director of strategic insights and marketing, about the expansion of the Oregon State’s microcredential initiative and the importance of access and affordability for modern learners.

In the conversation, Templeton explains that in addition to offering degrees for more than 150 years, Oregon State recognized the need to cater to the diverse needs of modern learners. The rising cost of higher education and time constraints faced by working adults necessitated a more affordable and accessible approach. Microcredentials, which at OSU are three- or four-course bundles that offer highly specialized skills online, emerged as a solution to address these challenges while also focusing on the skills required in today’s workforce.

Here are some highlights of what Templeton shared with listeners. This transcript excerpt has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

A headshot of Lisa L. Templeton, the vice provost of Oregon State University’s Division of Educational Ventures.

Lisa L. Templeton, the vice provost of Oregon State University’s Division of Educational Ventures.

On the tried-and-true foundation of Oregon State’s microcredential offerings

“Our approach I think is pretty different than a lot of other universities. What we’re doing is we’re actually taking credit-bearing courses and re-bundling them based on needed skills. For us, this was a way to go faster. Instead of creating all sorts of new courses, we’re saying, What do we already have at Ecampus? We have about 1,800 online courses. What if we bundled a few of them together, looking at the workforce needs right now and the courses that have the course learning outcomes that meet those needs.

“And that’s how we were kind of approaching it — taking this rich, robust, high-quality portfolio of online courses and repackaging based on what we think a modern learner would need.”

On partnering with Oregon State’s academic colleges and faculty to ensure quality

“We are a central unit, but everything we do at Ecampus and within the Division of Educational Ventures has a partner. Everything we build, offer, do has an academic partner, and I think that’s our secret sauce in some ways. Oregon State University Ecampus isn’t a standalone university. We’re not out there on our own hiring our own faculty or offering our own courses, and we don’t buy content from anybody else.

“So if we develop a course or a program, we do that with an academic partner, and they determine which faculty member is going to teach it and offer it. It’s this great collaboration. Everything we develop online is high-quality. It doesn’t matter if you took it online, on-site — it’s an Oregon State course, an Oregon State degree.”

On building a collaborative relationship with OSU’s academic affairs and registrar’s offices to launch the microcredential initiative

“I spoke with the provost, and he was definitely amenable to experimenting with this. We put a team together — our graduate school, our registrar’s office, academic affairs, my role in Ecampus, and we started talking about what microcredentials could look like at OSU. And where we decided to start was in the credit realm. As I mentioned, what we were doing is taking the courses that we already have and re-bundling into smaller packages. So once we determined what it was, then we said, Can we do this? Can we offer a new credential? …

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Oregon State’s Lisa L. Templeton joins the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast to discuss OSU’s collaborative microcredential pilot program. Listen now »

“We took this idea to our faculty senate executive committee and said, ‘This is what we want to do, and we want to move quickly.’ And they appointed a microcredential review committee. It’s done at a university level. It’s a group of faculty members and administrators who, when we want to launch a microcredential, they review it, and they do the approval. So it’s really quick, and that’s exciting. We can be more market-driven because we’ve got this quicker approach.”

On gathering feedback from industry leaders to meet workforce needs

“What we’re trying to do is get industry insights through a variety of ways. We have a Corporate and Workforce Education Unit that’s bringing in insights. We work with Guild, and Guild obviously works with major corporations. And we’re hearing from them — what are the needs of these corporations? We’re bringing all this information back. And from that we’re looking at, OK, what courses do we have with learning outcomes that we think will meet learner needs?

“Then we reach out to the academic colleges. We work often with associate deans or department heads, and we suggest bundling certain courses together, and we ask them ‘What do you think about participating in the microcredential pilot?’ And as I mentioned, they’re eager, right? There is a lot of excitement about this. I think everyone gets this.

“Everyone, as I mentioned earlier, and I can’t say it enough, really cares about access and affordability at Oregon State University. So we’re creating learning opportunities that are providing access to others who may not access OSU if we didn’t have these microcredentials.”

On her advice for institutions looking to launch a microcredential program

“Try something. Don’t wait until it’s perfect and you get everything you want. That long road is too long, right? You’re going to need to do something quicker. And if it doesn’t work, try something else.

“This is a time that I think is very similar to where we were 15, 20 years ago when we started innovating in the online world. And I think it’s an incredible opportunity for learners. I hope others try, jump into the alternative credential arena, and I hope that they share. I always am willing to share what worked, what didn’t as we’re all learning about this together.”

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