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Oregon State University hires new director to lead strategic expansion of alternative credentials

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To cater to the diverse needs of modern learners, Oregon State University is expanding alternative credential opportunities for students, with an emphasis on skills that are most needed in today’s workforce.

Read a Q&A with Devin Miles, director of alternative credentials in the Division of Educational Ventures, to learn more about how Oregon State continues to expand access and opportunity for students everywhere

Devin Miles is no stranger to the power of alternative credentials. He hails most recently from St. Charles Community College in Missouri, where he worked to expand guided pathways for students, including through stackable credentials.

“I saw firsthand the positive impact of quality short-term certificates, workforce education and particularly the benefits of online education,” says Miles.

These positive experiences are part of what interested Miles in joining Oregon State University as the director of a new alternative credentials unit. He believes in the power of alternative pathways and views Oregon State as taking things to a new level.  

“This is that times 100,” he says of his new role.

Alternative credentials offer a lot of promise for students and employers, and Miles will help OSU’s Division of Educational Ventures build even greater momentum around their creation and implementation across the university.

Below he shares his insights into the current landscape, what excites him about being at Oregon State and his vision for the future.

devin miles

Devin Miles is the director of alternative credentials for Oregon State University’s Division of Educational Ventures.

For those who are unfamiliar, what are alternative credentials?

An “alternative credential” is an umbrella term that generally encompasses short-term educational pathways to specialized skills and knowledge that help students advance their careers. Examples include microcredentials, digital badges and industry certifications. 

Often, these credentials focus on specific skill sets that are relevant to particular industries, providing practical experience across various in-demand areas. These credentials tend to share common elements, such as their short-term nature, a competency or skills-based approach as well as an emphasis on reskilling, upskilling and/or career progression.

Why is it so important for universities like Oregon State to offer learners alternative learning pathways?

This question is timely as we observe dynamic shifts in both the employment and educational landscapes. One thing we’re seeing is that many industries are facing skills gaps and workforce shortages. Employers want to hire employees who demonstrate those in-demand skills and knowledge, or else they need to be able to train people within a relatively short time frame. 

We’re also seeing increased demand for these kinds of credentials from individual learners. While high-quality, traditional undergraduate and graduate degree programs will remain essential, the challenges associated with earning a traditional degree are prompting individual learners to seek “nontraditional” opportunities to gain those desired skill sets that will help them support their families and communities. 

Ultimately, alternative credential programs are well-positioned to meet many of these challenges and needs. In that way, they play an integral role in fulfilling Oregon State’s overall mission.

What are the main benefits for students?

There are many, but some of the primary benefits include: 

  • Time frame: Alternative credentials are hyper-focused and can be completed in much less time than a traditional degree.
  • Cost: The short-term nature of alternative credentials makes them more cost-effective than traditional degree programs. 
  • Career growth: These credentials are designed to teach specific skill sets and can help students enter new careers or advance existing ones.
  • Flexibility and choice: Students can explore interests and potential career paths, without the full commitment of a degree program, and while earning tangible evidence of their skills through digital badging.
  • Stackability: When students find a path or program that’s right for them or warrants deeper exploration, the credits they earned through alternative credentials will often stack into their future degree or certificate program.

Which types of learners benefit most by earning alternative credentials online?

Alternative credentials benefit a wide variety of learners and cater to the diverse needs of modern students — those seeking alternative pathways to career entry,  those who want additional skills to complement existing degrees, and those who want to test the waters of a program before committing to a degree program.

While traditional degree programs still hold incredible value, acknowledging that they may not suit everyone is important. Really, this is an equity issue. Not everyone has the time or resources to pursue a traditional degree program, but those people still need pathways for career entry and advancement. We need to ensure we’re providing those opportunities as well.

So, alternative credentials go a long way to increasing access and student choice. They also often incorporate hands-on and experiential learning models, helping students who may want to enter areas such as manufacturing trades or coding and computer science sectors. There is something for everyone.

How is Oregon State leading the way in developing and delivering alternative credentials?

Oregon State’s prioritization of alternative credentials shows foresight and speaks to a commitment to creativity, risk-taking and student success. 

Notably, the online certificate and microcredential programs that Oregon State Ecampus already delivers are well-designed, incorporating faculty knowledge and feedback. Students in these programs receive the same award-winning education that Oregon State is known for and a supportive student environment that fosters success.

A lot of credentials that you find outside a traditional university aren’t developed with the same level of rigor or faculty expertise that we have at OSU, and they also aren’t stackable. These are valuable differentiators for Oregon State.

Can you speak more about stackability and how these short-form offerings complement Oregon State’s degree programs?

Many of Oregon State’s online alternative credential programs allow students to stack credits they earn through a microcredential or certificate toward full online degree programs. This is pretty cool, as it allows students to explore a field (or multiple fields) before committing to a full degree program.

For example, a microcredential in content development and production counts toward a bachelor’s in digital communication arts. But students will also receive a digital badge for the microcredential they complete, so they can market already-learned skills as they go.  

What made you interested in this role and working at Oregon State’s Division of Educational Ventures?

I honestly feel like alternative credentials are, in many ways, the future of the post-secondary educational landscape, and I wanted to grow my career in this area.

I also worked in the Portland metro for many years, so I was aware of Oregon State’s reputation not only as a distinguished research university but as a great employer. Oregon State’s strong reputation in the online learning environment was also something that I was excited to be part of.

You’re leading a brand-new unit. What’s your hope and vision for it going forward?

I’d like to continue developing alternative credentials that either stack toward degrees or help students achieve specific career goals. These credentials will incorporate employment and occupational data and will be developed closely with industry and state collaborators. 

Ultimately, I envision offering high-quality, cost-effective programs that support Oregon State’s strategic vision for the future.

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