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Podcast: Goal 2025 and the Lumina Foundation


This interview is with Dr. Amber Garrison Duncan, Strategy Director for the Lumina Foundation. In 2008, the Lumina Foundation asked: What is it that Americans need to access living wage jobs? The conclusion: By 2025, at least 60% of Americans will need a high quality post secondary credential. Since the Lumina Foundation focuses on all learning beyond high school, this opens and includes a range of pathways. Further, the foundation asked, “What are the skills and competencies needed for employment?” Their work has shaped frameworks and policies that inform and influence the many complexities of this credentialing space.


Susan Manning:                   Welcome to the Credly Podcast where we touch base with our issuers, earners, and partners and explore themes of interest in digital credentialing. I'm Susan Manning.

Susan Manning:                   Today I'm talking with Doctor Amber Garrison Duncan, the strategy director for the Lumina Foundation. And we are going to talk about the ecosystems around credentialing, frameworks, and all kinds of things that relate to digital credentials. So welcome, Amber.

Dr. Duncan:                           Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Susan Manning:                   I think you're going to add a very unique voice to our discussion about credentials because you look at this from really the big picture. So can you tell me, first of all, a little about the Lumina Foundation, its work and mission, and how that fits with the digital credential space.

Dr. Duncan:                           Absolutely. I'd be happy to give you a quick overview. Lumina Foundation is a non-profit, private foundation located in Indianapolis, Indiana and we are unique in that all of our funding goes towards post secondary learning. So we're the only foundation in the nation that focuses solely on that issue. We're also the largest foundation that focuses on that issue. And in 2008 we did a lot of research into understand what is it that Americans are going to need to be able to access living wage jobs, or have thriving lives that sometimes we like to say. And by the year we get to 2025, and when we looked at that research, a lot of it is from the Georgetown center on education to workforce. What became very clear is that Americans at least 60% of them by 2025 are going to need a post secondary credential to access jobs and give them a thriving life.

Dr. Duncan:                           And so what we then centered on is okay well that's what we have to get out. Lumina should drive that towards that 60%. So we establish goal 2025 which says that by that time frame we want 60% of Americans to have that high quality post secondary credential. So we focus on again all learning beyond high school. We are understanding that to meet that goal, there's a range of pathways and credentials that do result in end wages that give individuals a thriving life and prepare them for citizenship.

Dr. Duncan:                           Those come from degrees. They come from certificates. They come from certifications. And so we have been looking at this ecosystem of how do people go about developing their talent and what are the credentials that result in that so we work with higher education. We work with workforce providers. We work with employers. Anybody who's in the credential issuing space. That's who Lumina is working with to make sure Americans can access those opportunities.

Susan Manning:                   Anyone who's in the credential issuing space. That's only a portion of the ecosystem, right?

Dr. Duncan:                           Yes. And so while we're working with anyone issuing credentials, we also want to make sure those credentials when we say high quality, what that means is it leads to further education and employment. And so we also work with a lot of employers to understand what are the skills and competencies that are needed for employability. What is it that makes sure that if a credential is going to be issued, the person it's actually something needed in the labor market. And so that's some of the work we do. Clearly we also work a lot with policy makers, helping them understand the issues, helping them understand the policies and the funding decisions they make. How that impacts goal 2025. So we really do span the entire ecosystem in helping people get on work with the goal and understand their role in helping the U.S. to get to that goal.

Susan Manning:                   So when you think about the ecosystem, and what's going on with developing the language around getting people on board, what are some of the key phrases and not that this is a marketing pitch, but where do you have challenges and where is it really easy?

Dr. Duncan:                           That's a good question. As I think about all the diverse stakeholders. There's definitely different things that motivate or inspire them. So something that is also really important to us that I want to call out about getting to the goal is that what we need to do is also close gaps in equity between those who have credentials and those who do not. And when you look at those gaps, they're based on race and ethnicity. And not because there's deficit, but because we have a history of excluding people of color. We had segregated schools. We had segregated learning environments for a really long time.

Dr. Duncan:                           And what we are trying to do is make sure those gaps close on the way to the goal. That doesn't mean that white Americans shouldn't earn a credential. That's not our belief. But absolutely to get to the goal we have to close those gaps. And so when you think about that as an example of what we're driving towards. For some people, there's a moral imperative is that again because of the way the U.S. has operated around learning, there is a responsibility for us to correct that. For some people they're very motivated about what does that mean as we shift from a majority white community to a much more diverse community of people in this country. There's an economic imperative. That our economy will not thrive if we don't have all Americans who are thriving. And so again, that just kind of shows sometimes there's people who are motivated by different aspects of this work. But at the end of the day, the mission and the agenda are shared and so we really try to rally people from where they're at with the explicit focus on again the goal and closing equity gaps.

Susan Manning:                   That is a really important conversation to have. So as you think about the frameworks that you've developed because I know that's also an important part of this picture, how do the frameworks help shape your conversations? And how did they come about?

Dr. Duncan:                           Sure. Earlier on I mentioned employability right? As we want to understand not just what the credentials are. The credentials represent is this kind of this proxy for hey it signals to the market or to others that supposedly I know and can do some things. But what is that I actually know and can do is not transparent in that degree or certification. And so what we realized is that in order for that to be more transparent, for us to get very clear about what people need to be successful, and for employers to signal to education providers what they need, we have to have a way to speak in skills and competencies. And there were no tools to really help us have that conversation. And so Lumina got into this because of that and saying you know what, there are ways we can have tools to help guide us in this conversation and we went about bringing who could develop those tools to facilitate that.

Dr. Duncan:                           One of those is the degree of qualifications profile. The other we helped the AACU, the American Association of Universities and Colleges develop the essential learning outcomes. Which are outcomes employable and civic outcomes for every learner in higher education. But then we also got into the space of you know what, those are really focused on credential outcomes. But what we know about today's learners is they're bringing in learning from a lot of different places. And there wasn't a way for us to kind of bundle that learning in a way that might make sense. So if I earned a certificate over here, and I had some employer training over here, and I had a degree what does that add up to. How do I better signal again what it is that I know and can do?

Dr. Duncan:                           And so we embarked upon a process in 2015 to build the connecting credentials framework which is instead of being centered on a credential is centered on levels of learning across more domain areas. So then I can bring using the descriptions in that framework, I can bring all these credentials together and understand what it is that I add up to so I might add up to a level five or six once I push all those credentials together. So we also knew employers were having a hard time understanding again what all those credentials mean. So from there perspective, it helps them understand what those levels are as well. So but now we know we have employers that are using this to develop their internal training processes to look at what it is as they bring somebody in on a hiring process, how they walk them through a production of training and how they do promotions.

Dr. Duncan:                           So it's really neat to see both employers and education providers working in competency as a way to understand talent development and getting people to the skill level they need to be successful in their work.

Susan Manning:                   And I think frameworks provide the language that earners need also and that becomes a tool to help level the playing field. This is what I know. This is what I can do. Whereas sometimes graduates of programs may not have the language that they need and a digital credential can make that really transparent and put that in their hands.

Dr. Duncan:                           Absolutely. That's why we are so excited about digital credentials is that really when you think about a traditional piece of paper. Again, it contains none of this information. And so by using this common language, and using these digital tools like what Credily provides, it means that not only is there something to signal but you get to really dive in and what are the competencies. And there are some cases what did the learner do to demonstrate those competencies. Which then means I have something I can own, I can share with others. And it is much more transparent as I seek further education or I seek further employment what it is I already know and can do. And where I need to go next.

Susan Manning:                   Right. So speaking of next, where do you see this going next?

Dr. Duncan:                           One of the things that we are very interested and exploring and are looking into and Credily's also looking into this is if I have multiple digital credentials, where do I store those? Are there opportunities for us to use distributed ledger technology such as Block Chain to have my digital credentials that might come from multiple sources. Again an education provider, an employer, a multiple of those over time. How do I manage that? So I love this new bit around self sovereignty again, individuals owning their records, but I think that's our next question is how do I [inaudible 00:10:26] those. Can I have them in my wallet on my iPhone? So that I can more easily share them. I think those are going to be some really neat questions to explore, particularly again with this theme around equity is if we empower the learner to own what it is that they've earned, where can they go, what can they do with that, and how do we really use this open collaborative technology to facilitate that?

Susan Manning:                   That's wonderful. And that means you need to agree to come back for another podcast.

Dr. Duncan:                           You've got it. I'm in.

Susan Manning:                   I'm really delighted to hear that. Thank you so much for helping us unpack where we are right now and then we'll look forward to talking about where we're going in the future.

Susan Manning:                   Thank you listeners for joining us. If you'd like to suggest upcoming topics, feel free to write us at