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Strengthening Our Future Workforce on a Micro Level

Male student at SUNY Plattsburgh sits at computer station in computer study lab.

The 21st century job market moves quickly, with fast-paced developments in technology redefining some long-standing careers—think advertising executives working to keep pace with new developments in social media. At the same time, technology is introducing new jobs like genetic counselor and even creating new uses for some of our earliest known professions like cartographers (map makers).

As a result, companies today are seeking candidates with a college degree and tangible proof that they have skill sets that directly translate to their newest job descriptions/day-to-day job duties. Prospective employers want to know that their staff can adapt to change and are willing to learn new skills. In response, today’s students are looking for ways to distinguish themselves in the market place.

Micro-credentials“—a buzz word in the business community and in education for a number of years now—are designed to address the emerging needs described above. What are micro-credentials? Simply put, micro-credentials attest that specific steps, skills and/or competencies have been achieved. They differ from traditional degrees and certificates in that they are generally offered in shorter or more flexible timespans and tend to be more narrowly focused. Digital badges are probably the most common type of micro-credential, but students can also earn other types of micro-credentials after, for example, completing the requirements of an online MOOC.

Micro-Credentials at SUNY

SUNY sees great potential in micro-credentials and is well positioned to lead. In addition to our ongoing work to ensure that existing degree programs meet students’ learning needs, micro-credentials could be used to give students the chance to select and demonstrate customizable skill sets. For example, a business major who wants to work in the pharmaceutical industry could add on a micro-credential in common pharmacology terms or a communications major who wants to work for a finance company could add a micro-credential in understanding financial statements. Awarding a micro-credential after a student has mastered a particular group of competencies in a traditional degree program can give them an immediate credential to help find internships or part-time jobs. Micro-credentials could also be used to provide a new path for adult learners to gain job-relevant skills quickly.

The biggest challenge? Despite lots of national efforts to create a uniform definition of a micro-credential, there remains lots of variation. SUNY wanted to ensure that students and employers would have a clear understanding of what a SUNY micro-credential is, and is not. After all, every credential that SUNY offers has to be of the highest quality, it has to be meaningful for students, and it has to demonstrate to potential employers that it comes with the full backing of a SUNY college. The solution? SUNY set its own definition for micro-credentials!

SUNY Micro‐Credentials:

  1. verify, validate and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved;
  2. are endorsed by the issuing institution;
  3. are developed through established faculty governance processes; and
  4. are designed to be meaningful and high quality.

The SUNY micro-credentialing process has to consider what’s in the best interest of the students earning them. SUNY micro-credentials need to link to detailed meta-data that identify the competencies met and how that attainment was assessed.

To achieve all of its goals, SUNY’s new policy on micro-credentials also outlines a set of core guiding principles, including that SUNY micro-credentials should be stackable, i.e., that completing one micro-credential qualifies you to take another. SUNY micro-credentials also need to be transparent and portable, so you can highlight them in your digital resume or on your LinkedIn® page.

What’s Next?

We’re hard at work making sure everyone knows about SUNY’s new policy and guidelines on micro-credentials, and that campuses have the supports they need to develop and offer the high-quality micro-credentials students and employers seek. Some SUNY campuses already have micro-credentials up and running, and many more campuses are in the development stages now. With a focus on individualized learning, micro-credentials are one more way that SUNY is setting students on a path to success.


If you’d like to get involved in the development of micro-credentials at SUNY, you can email provost@suny.edu and tell us what skills and competencies you would like to see represented in micro-credentials.

    Written by Cynthia Proctor

    Cynthia is the Director of Communications and Academic Policy Development for the Office of the Provost at SUNY.

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