Benchmark This!

Latest Trends Impacting Marketing and Higher Education
from Director of UPCEA's Center for Research and Strategy, Jim Fong

Overlooked and Excluded: PCO learner data and learner records

Co-authored with Julie Uranis, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Online and Strategic Initiatives, UPCEA

Comprehensive Learner Records (CLRs) and Learning and Employment Records (LERs) could dramatically change the landscape of postsecondary learning. CLRs and LERs detail an individual’s educational achievements, inclusive of credit-bearing courses, programs and co-curricular activities; noncredit learning; and other training. They are more than a transcript in that they capture not only the courses that a person has completed or the degree the person received, but could recognize noncredit experiences and milestones, including badges and certificates. The benefits of being able to create, manage and implement a system for CLR are immense, but there are also many hurdles to overcome. Currently, many institutions working on CLRs are solely focused on credit-bearing experiences and co-curricular experiences. This is problematic for professional and continuing education (PCE) enterprises.

Ideally, CLRs incorporate learning milestones from many sources. As we know in higher education, merging systems or creating dashboards can be a difficult task. Remember, PCE enterprises serve learners that are not pursuing degrees; deliver programs that are measured in seat time and CEUs rather than credit hours; and need additional information that does not reside in most student information systems — such as liability waivers and dietary restrictions. For this reason many PCE units have wholly separate registration systems customized for the programs they serve and rarely, if ever, connect that data to institutional learner records.

Higher education has struggled with system development and implementation, and the ability to compile a complete record on a learner, efficiently and quickly, requires a comprehensive approach to systems such as Student Information Systems (SIS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and so many more (financial aid, e-commerce, etc.).

In terms of implementing CLRs and LERs, institutions struggle to incorporate noncredit experiences into basic systems and in many cases, registrars may be completely unaware that non-credit experiences should be included in a CLR or LER. As recently as 2021, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), the professional association for registrars, defines the CLR as containing:

  • Coursework (credit-bearing)
  • Co-curricular experiences
  • Learning experiences that may occur at the same time as the educational experience but outside the institution’s oversight

Note what is missing from this list: professional and continuing experiences. This suggests that the current CLRs are firmly centered around undergraduate residential/traditional students

UPCEA’s March 2022 snap poll bears this out as more than half of the respondents cite data ownership being a major issue, as well as disparate or disconnected systems.  

There are many reasons for an institution to consider implementing CLRs:

  • Learners would have a lifelong digital record, as opposed to separate, disconnected transcripts, experiences, badges and other credentials.
  • Learners are able to take their life’s academic achievements into the workplace, similar to their resume or LinkedIn profile.
  • Improving engagement with potential learners by recognizing their learning and life experiences.
  • Increasing the value and measurability of all learning, regardless of where it occurs
  • Creating a comprehensive learner profile that includes more than credits and courses
  • Bridging the gap between the institution and the employer. There are many studies showing employers seeking greater input toward preparing graduates to workforce.

CLRs hold a great deal of promise for PCE units, especially if institutions embrace all learning occurring at the institution, including non-credit and non-degree experiences. Overcoming the complexity of CLR could reshape higher education in a way that articulates the value of all postsecondary learning by better acknowledging learning that happens in different pathways or streams beyond the credit experience.

UPCEA is focused on this exciting area and tracking developments in CLRs and LERs. Wondering what you can do to get the CLR conversation started at your institution?

  • Start a conversation with your institution’s registrar and ask if they have been following AACRAO’s work on CLRs and if they have any thoughts on it. Share this blog post or share how much data the PCE unit could contribute to a comprehensive record.
  • Start a conversation with your PCE unit’s registration vendor. Ask if they are currently working with other institutions on CLRs and about data portability (noting there are data standards for CLRs)
  • Conduct some internal research, especially if team members have access to both non-credit registration systems and your institution’s SIS. Look for learners that exist in both systems. Providing examples of individuals that would be served better with a comprehensive record may be eye-opening for C-suite leaders that believe PCE is wholly separate and serves an entirely different learner population.
Jim Fong, UPCEA

Lead consultant Jim Fong, the founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, has extensive background in marketing at Penn State, as well as experience in private industry. Jim brings a rich understanding of the dynamics driving today’s higher education leaders, providing research-driven strategy and positioning. Jim often presents at UPCEA’s regional and national conferences, sharing vital information with attendees.

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