Digital Badge and Credentialing Programs for Students and Recent Graduates

College students and recent graduates are having a tough time right now. Sure, there are plenty of low-wage/low-skill opportunities available, but the competition is fierce for career-track positions. Your association can offer them a way to stand out amidst the competition. Digital badge and credentialing programs will attract their attention and interest, and earn their loyalty and trust by providing the information they need to get a job.

By earning digital badges and other intro-level credentials, college students, recent graduates and even people who are new to your industry can acquire basic knowledge about your industry or profession, and demonstrate their commitment to professional growth.  

Digital badge and credentialing programs for students, recent graduates and young professionals

The digital badge and credentialing programs hosted on TopClass LMS by a few of our fraternity clients can serve as models for the types of programs the younger demographic needs to get ahead in their careers and lives. We believe you can find inspiration in these programs and tweak them for your market.  

digital badge and credentialing programs

Model program: digital badges at Sigma Alpha Epsilon

At Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), members are expected to attend weekly lessons covering topics related to fraternity rituals, leadership, community service, health and safety, diversity, equity and inclusion, and academics—which, we’re happy to see, includes a component on the skills required for effective online learning. Brothers can earn digital badges, Accolades, through completion of these lessons, attendance at chapter meetings and ritual events, community service, campus involvement, paying bills on time, and academic performance.

SAE tells them, “Through Accolades you earn your membership in the Fraternity. Becoming a better man and brother is a constant process—we never stop learning and we never stop aiming to Rise Above.” SAE headquarters provides facilitator guides for each lesson and component that include schedules, tasks, checklists and scripts. Every lesson has a detailed outline, so any brother delivering a lesson knows what information should be covered and different ways to cover it.

How can you adapt this for your association?

•    Administer an online program composed of lessons covering an orientation to the industry and basic competencies required to get started. Teach “adulting” skills, such as job-seeking etiquette, interviewing, time management, remote work skills, goal setting, and conflict resolution.

•    Partner with chapters on a hybrid program. After taking lessons online, learners meet as a group with chapter mentors for additional instruction and guidance—an effective way for chapters to attract and recruit new members, and introduce them to the local professional community.

•    Separate modules or digital badges into tracks. Award a certificate when learners complete all the modules/badges in a track.

•    Combine certificate programs with membership at a deeply discounted student or emerging professional rate.

•    Reduce costs and/or registration fees with sponsorships. If partnering with chapters, sponsors get a broader platform and, if you share, chapters earn extra revenue.

Model program: stackable leadership development certificates at Sigma Chi

Sigma Chi hosts several leadership development programs on TopClass LMS. One course teaches character-based recruitment and leadership skills to prepare brothers for fraternity life and the professional world. Their Strong Arms curriculum for new members is the Greek-letter world’s first dedicated learning resource addressing mental wellness and emotional health. The Values-Based Decision Making course addresses accountability and challenging issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct.

The one that caught our association eye is the only fraternity leadership program that allows brothers to participate beyond their college years: the Transformational Leader stackable certificate program. This new leadership development program was designed to “develop transformational leaders who embody the skills demanded by our workforce and world.”

Brothers can earn certificates in 16 competencies—a list you may want to consider for your own leadership programs: self-management, versatility, values-based decision making, resiliency, managing change, collaboration, philanthropy, people management, leveraging differences, team building, empowering feedback, mentorship, innovation, strategic planning, problem solving, and effective communication.

Sigma Chi uses these credentialing programs as a recruitment tool. Besides the Transformational Leadership Certificate, they also have certificates for Foundational Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Values-Based Leadership and Distance Leadership.

How can you adapt this for your association?

•    Think stackable. Stackable certificates “provide career pathways for students and employees... a clear sequence of coursework and/or other credentials that support skill attainment and employment… They also recognize specialized skills beyond school and are better aligned with employer needs (if well-constructed).”

•    Technical competencies are valuable indeed, but the 16 Sigma Chi competencies will prepare students and young professionals for leadership roles in your industry and at your association and chapters.

•    If fraternities or sororities exist for your profession or industry, consider partnering with them on programs like Sigma Chi’s.

•    Assess whether there is a need in your industry or profession for programs that address mental wellness and emotional health from the employer and/or employee perspective. Are there other “challenging issues” that need addressing?

digital badge and credentialing programs

More inspiration for education and credentialing programs for students and young professionals

Without the requisite job experience, young professionals don’t qualify for association credentialing programs. However, they would benefit from an introductory credential, for example:

•    Certification based on successful completion of a specific number of credit hours in different domains, a passing exam score and the required job experience, perhaps one to two years.

•    Certificate based on successful completion of a curriculum offered by your association.

The American Planning Association chose a different route. Their AICP Candidate Pilot Program allows graduates to apply for certification at a lower fee than usual, take the exam, and begin earning credits and gaining the job experience required for the credential.

The Community Associations Institute offers a Recent College Grad Package that includes a student membership and their online “Essentials of Community Association Management" course—the first step toward earning their Certified Manager of Community Associations designation.

By offering digital badge and credentialing programs to students and recent graduates, you help them develop the lifelong learning habit that will serve them well throughout their career. You also introduce them to the idea of “associating”—connecting with resources offered by your association as well as peers and professionals who are further along in their careers.

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