People learn in more places than ever before—earning credits from high school or dual enrollment courses, picking up certifications for job advancement, gaining experience through the military, and more. While many colleges, universities, and employers have begun translating this accumulated learning into transcriptable credits, students frequently find that institutions will not count their previously accumulated credits.

As credit accumulation options have proliferated, students have also become increasingly mobile themselves. In fact, 45 percent of associate degree earners and 67 percent of bachelor’s degree earners attend two or more institutions before earning their degree.

Proliferating credit accumulation options, coupled with increased student mobility, presents challenges for institutions and states that seek greater levels of educational attainment. On a hunt for solutions, we began by looking for examples in the field where students could leverage multiple types of learning across institutions on their journey to a credential. We found several promising policies and practices, outlined in our new issue brief, including Transfer Explorer, state policies in Oregon and Maryland, cross-state collaboration supported by WICHE, and new models of course sharing.

Taken together, these examples demonstrate the key components of holistic credit mobility: a framework that centers learning first, counts validated learning regardless of the source, does not ask students to repeat learning, and includes advising on what credit is accepted as well as what learning is still required to earn a desired credential. In short, holistic credit mobility embraces students’ accumulated learning and empowers them to chart a path that counts all their learning toward a credential.

Supporting a more holistic view of student learning and how it can translate across schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers requires reforms to technology, policy, and practice. In our review of programs and policies that touch on the concept of holistic credit mobility, three solutions rose to the top as effective strategies for supporting this framework:

  1. Supportive Technology: Currently, there is inconsistent or insufficient technological development to support reconciling learning from multiple sources, and limited and fragmented deployment of technologies that do exist.
  2. Policy-Driven: State policy is generally quiet when it comes to institutional approaches to reconciling learning from multiple sources, resulting in a patchwork of institutional policies that compromise student mobility. Policy has also been slow to attend to the financial disincentives that institutions face in the credit assessment and acceptance process.
  3. Responsive Practice: Problems in practice exist at the institutional and cross-institutional levels, such as overly-rigid pathways models, insufficient or ineffective student advising to encourage exploration of ways to gain credits outside of the classroom, and unclear pathways for moving between institutions.

Moving forward, the holistic credit mobility framework can be useful to postsecondary institutions taking steps to better serve mobile students who may complete learning in a variety of places and modalities. With this brief, we hope to provide a path forward for institutions, systems, and states to develop an infrastructure that centers students’ learning first.