A diploma from an academic college signifies the attainment of certain academic skill sets, while a certificate from a non-academic college signifies the attainment of more “mechanical” skill sets. Both types of credentials are cultural currency that can be exchanged for wages and social prestige. Should graduates be called upon to demonstrate their skill sets but fail to do so adequately, their worth as employees and the worth of their credentials (and/or institutions granting the credentials) may be called into question.
Anyone who has ever purchased faulty repair services for a major appliance (e.g., a furnace or dishwasher) most likely called into question not only the particular repair job but also the technician’s training/certification. It all seems clear cut and measurable with mechanical skill sets: the repaired appliance either will or will not operate.
Academic skill sets are more difficult to measure. For example, as young children we all made many leaps of faith each day when dealing with teachers, counselors, doctors, lawyers, and so on: we didn’t understand all that they were doing, and even if we as children knew their skill sets were inadequate, we weren’t able to articulate an evaluation of those skill sets until we reached adulthood and (ideally) could draw upon a wealth of life experiences and a good education. Looking back on such memories, most would agree that there is a need for more immediate and standardized metrics, particularly when it comes to academic skill sets.
However, as often noted on the Lounge (see https://haroldlounge.com/2013/05/07/true-story/), mere degree completion is a crude indicator, and economic metrics fall short due to the nature of the goods and services created by higher education. (It’s not that the goods and services are immaterial but that critical thinking, say, unlike a widget, cannot be so easily quantified/compartmentalized.) Others (http://citycollegeschicagoreinvention-truths.blogspot.com/2011/04/expose-of-manipulation-of-data-used-to.html) point out that performance data must be comparative and contextual to be meaningful (and not misleading); further, although a performance data analysis may lower the cost and improve the efficiency of widget production, it is less likely to do so when applied to the cost/efficiency of degree production. (For example, factoring in grants, scholarships, government subsidies, level of prepatory education, transfer/non-transfer prior to degree completion, and a host of other variables that living beings bring to the equation clouds the cost/efficiency of degree production.)
Lastly, there is the caveat about correlation and causality when it comes to social science research.*
VFA might very well address the concerns expressed above. Or not. Read more at http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Resources/aaccprograms/VFAWeb/Pages/VFAHomePage.aspx. More backstory re: the current climate of accountability can be found at http://www.aaup.org/article/accreditation-and-federal-future-higher-education.
Credentials of Academic, non-Academic, and Economic Value
SFTB’s question assumes a simple, reductive correspondence between credentials (like badges) and skill sets. Of course, credentials function as cultural currency, so arguments about the fidelity of metrics belie the simplicity of accurately converting cultural currency (i.e., skill sets) into wages and social prestige. Here on the Lounge the conversion to economic value is particularly suspect while the conversion to “social prestige” is not. For Realist et al. “academic” is privileged over “non-academic” not just because of skill sets but because putative categories of people/professions are already held in place ideologically; consequently, the argument runs that academic degrees likely enable social mobility, uphold democracy, and stimulate capitalism, while non-academic degrees likely enslave their holders to the totalizing logic of capital.
But both academic and non-academic credentials get converted into wages and social prestige and are further converted into many other things, such as social mobility, civic engagement (democracy) – or even arguments that pack this process of economic/social conversion into populist, jingoist, and “educator-centered” discourses. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive.)
As many are fond of saying: follow the money.
Thus, SFTB’s question.
*(Of course setting aside correlative/experimental evidence in order to privilege speculative/anecdotal evidence is a rhetorical ploy on both Don’s and Dave’s part. Other than some tonal similarities, however, the two anecdotes are not parallel. https://haroldlounge.com/2013/05/07/true-story/)