Accreditation for DIY learners has long been a recognized stumbling block in open education circles. At the 2009 Open Education Conference, it came up frequently in presentations, questions, and talk among participants. How can DIY education earn the same esteem granted to learning that is verified by a university diploma? Despite people asking the question at almost every opportunity, no systemic solutions have arisen, leaving these learners to, you guessed it, Do It Themselves. Anya Kamenetz notes that she gets lots of questions on accreditation and expanded on its role in today’s learning society and economy and how it works in a DIY U world in a blog post: But What About Accreditation?
Her first striking move is to point out the unsaid assumption that accreditation works well in today’s economy. Prospective employers evaluating candidates see the name of their college on their university, and its prestige convinces them to assign a value to that educational experience. Anya thinks the accreditation system is working well for those with degrees from prestigious colleges but that it is failing those from non-selective schools and the 60% of Americans who have less than an Associate’s degree. The poorest educated are “cut out of a good percentage of decent-paying jobs” and settle for less.
She notes that a “human capital policy” exists among progressive circles that assumes sending more people to college will qualify them for more good jobs. Of course inflating the number of people holding degrees forces employers to differentiate more strongly between them, which weights schools’ reputations more heavily. (The expansion of available jobs doesn’t immediately follow from increased human capital.) This expands the prestigious schools’ advantage at the expense of those from non-selective schools. You could say the accreditation system isn’t working for them. So in order to distinguish themselves, these disadvantaged graduates have to turn to other means of demonstrating the value of their education and experience, like portfolios of work and personal recommendations.
I wonder how well these other methods are working out there right now. Kamenetz points to them as the way forward for DIY U students:
“One answer I look at in DIY U involves building reputation-based online networks where people can create portfolios and be judged on their actual work and accomplishments, not by the names on their diplomas. The Internet generally makes it easier to hire based on demonstrated skills, not how you look on paper.”
But really, such means are increasingly important for those who hold non-prestigious degrees already, as well as for those 60% who hold less than an Associate’s degree. It seems that an importart step in the DIY U process is learning how to present oneself . But this need doesn’t just apply to DIYers. Unfortunately, for most of those educated in an institution, portfolio-making and self-presentation is not taught, as schools assume their diploma is the major presentation point on the student’s resume. So traditional students need to DIY learn these skills as well.
Footnote: A separate issue is that on the public policy front, we need to not only teach people how to compete for the few available jobs most effectively, but we must also teach people how to create jobs and opportunities for themselves and others through a greater focus on entrepreneurship and cutting down risks and barriers to those opportunities. Creating an economic landscape where a generation of knowledge-able learners create opportunities rather than fill them is the goal politicians should focus on, rather than simply boosting the country’s college graduation statistics. Companies have been reporting difficulty filling high-skill positions as they have aimed for workers who can do more without increasing allowance for on-the-job training.