The University of Texas System plans to increase its focus on short-term microcredentials to provide people with more pathways to careers.
The UT System schools, including UT-Austin, will be offering more certifications, known as microcredentials, that show a specific skill was learned through short training or courses.
The goal is to help fill workforce gaps and respond to changing labor market demands, particularly in such fields as cybersecurity, business and technology.
Across the UT System, hundreds of microcredential programs already exist, from short courses to certificate programs, but the UT System has been training faculty and staff members; securing funding; and increasing its capacity for the past two years as it plans to expand such offerings.
“Texas may double in size. We’re going to have a great need to educate a much larger workforce,” UT System Chancellor J.B. Milliken said. “If we can provide — with the strength of our academic programs, and our faculty — the ability for people to get a credential that’s recognized by employers and hired, that’s a great thing.”
Read more:University of Texas mourns loss of beloved campus cat Domino
UT-Austin, one of the eight UT System academic institutions, offers about 25 microcredential programs for people to obtain various skills, such as the UTeachCS computer science program for K-12 teachers in coding and programming.
UT also announced the UT Oscar Mike program last month, which aims to provide veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce with certification in fields such as project management, human resources and personal training.
UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell said these programs help provide people with trustworthy and affordable skill development that apply to their jobs.
“Not everybody can afford to take full time to come pursue an entire degree, but the idea of unbundling that and making it more accessible in terms of either time or money provides people who have fewer means to have a chance to come get those skills … and they can move their careers forward,” Hartzell said.
Read:University of Texas will not be requiring SAT or ACT scores for fall 2023 applicants
UT-Austin spokesperson Matt Pene said UT is planning to increase the number of microcredential programs it offers, with a goal of serving 120,000 people in a year by 2027. Pene said UT also will create new credential programs for undergraduate students to bridge the gap between skills taught in their majors and ones they can highlight on job applications.
Hartzell said a focus on microcredentials will allow UT — which currently has an enrollment of about 52,000 students — to find ways to teach more people and give students a chance to “fulfill their dreams and go out and do great things in society.”
“In Austin, we hear from a lot of employers who just say, ‘Produce more,’” Hartzell said. “They’d like to hire as many (graduates) as we can produce. This is a new way for us to have to serve and satisfy some of that demand for a skilled workforce.”
Focus on credentials across Texas
The UT System’s focus on microcredentials comes amid a statewide emphasis from the Legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on worker training in response to COVID-19 and changes in the state’s industry and workforce.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, have directed each chamber’s higher education committee to focus on workforce education and industry-based certifications to prepare for the legislative session that starts next year.
More:With Texans falling short of college degree goals, state prioritizes credentials, earnings
In January, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a statewide strategic plan with an increased emphasis on microcredentials. The plan aims to have 60% of two groups of Texans — 25- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 64-year-olds — obtain a degree, certificate or other high-value postsecondary credential by 2030, as well as having 550,000 students complete postsecondary credentials of value every year.
Harrison Keller, the state’s commissioner of higher education, said as the COVID-19 pandemic affects the economy, thousands of Texans need to obtain additional credentials to help them advance in their careers and be competitive for jobs.
The state’s higher education system should meet the needs of these students in an equitable way, he said.
“The broader vision is that Texas not just maintains but advances our competitive position in the global economy, and that’s increasingly going to depend on the strength of our talent pipelines and the quality of the jobs that we can attract and retain in Texas,” Keller said. “So what we envision is that Texas will be recognized as a global leader in our strength of our talent pipeline.”