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Aurora Institute

Beyond the Traditional Transcript: State Policy Recommendations for Next Gen Credentials

Education Domain Blog

Today the Aurora Institute released the report, Going Beyond the Traditional: Next Gen Credentials and Flexible Learning Pathways, which seeks to deepen state policy makers’ understanding of the changes needed to facilitate meaningful next generation (“next gen”) credentials and advance state policy to support those changes. 

The traditional high school diploma and transcript do not fully capture what today’s graduates know and are able to do, let alone reflect the learning that they engage in both outside of school and beyond the K-12 system. The future world of work demands that learners document their developing knowledge and skills, and competency-based pathways—when coupled with next gen credentials and learner records—provide an avenue for doing so. As explored in the report and the recent CompetencyWorks blog series, the International Big Picture Learning Credential, New Zealand’s Record of Achievement, and the Mastery Transcript ® all provide compelling exemplars of these meaningful next gen credentials and learner records. This post highlights the report’s state policy recommendations and the ways that states like Vermont, Utah, and North Dakota are leading the way. 

State Policy Recommendations

To ensure the proliferation of next gen credentials and learner records, the Aurora Institute recommends advancing state policies to enable change and remove barriers to rethinking the high school diploma. (State examples are listed after each recommendation.) 

Develop Next Gen Credentials

  • Create pilots to plan and implement next gen credentials and mastery transcripts to ensure all youth can use their skills, education, and interests for a thriving future. (ND, UT, VT)

Create Competency Frameworks and Competency-Based Education Systems

  • Establish a new Portrait of a Graduate, to redefine K-12 graduation requirements into knowledge, skills, and competencies. The new graduate profile should be created with input from diverse stakeholders, including students, parents, educators, communities, employers, and industry representatives. (20+ states)
  • Offer multiple pathways to graduation to align with a holistic graduate profile (or Portrait of a Graduate), and establish competency-based frameworks to guide curriculum, instruction, and assessment. (ND, NM, SC, UT, VA, VT, WA)
  • Move from seat-time to competency-based credits; redefine the Carnegie unit from seat-time to competency-based credits to support anytime, anywhere learning. (NH, OR)
  • Support state policy changes to advance personalized, competency-based pathways by hosting a task force to create recommendations, using pilots to begin planning and implementing competency-based pathways. (AR, IA, UT)
  • Create a statewide vision for a lifelong, continuous system of learning. (AL)
  • Create opportunities for improving and aligning K-12, higher education, career and technical education (CTE), and employment training into competency-based systems to connect and stack credentialing. (AL, RI, WA) 

Build Capacity and Infrastructure 

  • Build coalitions within and around education spaces through schools, workforce, community organizations, and government organizations for individualized, competency-based pathways for students. (NM, SC, UT)
  • Expand community-driven, regional, and cross-state collaboration and advocacy efforts that advance system alignment and progress. (UT)
  • Invest in technology infrastructure for next gen credentials, digital learner records, and digital wallets that learners use for lifelong learning and skill building. (AL, GA, ND)
  • Invest in modern statewide infrastructure for K-12, career and technical education, and higher education competency-based transcripts, degrees, professional licensure, and certifications. (ND, UT)
  • Build capacity for recognizing and validating learning outside of school. (ME, NH) 

State Examples: Pathways to the Future

Competency-based next gen credentials are being initiated around the world, including in the United States. Localities and states are beginning to understand the value proposition of mastery transcripts and next gen credentials. Transforming from a one-size-fits-all education system to learner-centered, competency-based pathways requires new policies and practices to modernize education. Below, we highlight three U.S. states that have begun the transition of policy and practice. 

Vermont: Proficiency-Based Learning Systems and Diploma

Vermont is a recognized national leader in K-12 competency-based education and career and technical education. The state has been working on creating a thoughtful and comprehensive state policy approach to ensure students demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills. 

The Vermont General Assembly’s passage of Act 77 and the Board of Education’s approval of the Education Quality Standards have made Vermont a national leader on proficiency-based (or mastery-based) transcripts and have set the stage for advancing education transformation while honoring local control. Less than a decade in, Vermont is making significant progress, supported by sustained leadership in the legislature and the Vermont Agency of Education to advance more flexible, personalized, proficiency-based graduation pathways

At the forefront of state-led efforts are Vermont’s Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements (PBGRs). Through the new competency-based system that allows progress based on mastery, learners are able to excel by fully demonstrating what they know and can do. With PBGRs, anyone can look at a student’s record and understand what they learned and at what level they are proficient. Universities and organizations support the proficiency-based diploma, including the New England Board of Higher Education and New England Secondary School Consortium.

Utah: Supporting Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

Other states are taking a different approach. Utah illustrates how states can encourage competency-based education with legislation and guidance and tools from the state board of education, while allowing for local decisions about implementation. The state has created a statewide Personalized, Competency-Based Learning (PCBL) pilot program in districts and several dozen schools involved across the state. 

Utah has adapted the Aurora Institute’s published 2019 definition of competency-based education (see the glossary) in legislative code and defined a Personalized, Competency-Based Learning (PCBL) framework. The Utah Personalized, Competency-Based Learning framework, last updated in January 2023, includes five elements: 

  • Culture of learning
  • Learner agency 
  • Demonstrated competency and assessment
  • Customized support
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

To help advance innovations, Utah has partnered with Mastery Transcript Consortium ® to provide the learner record and resources to schools and districts making the shift. The Utah State Board of Education’s Personalized, Competency-Based Learning (PCBL) planning and implementation grant programs provide the participating schools automatic membership in the MTC network. The grant program, which began in 2019 with 45 schools in six districts, now totals more than 300 schools in 30 districts across five cohorts. 

North Dakota: Next Generation Digital Credentials

In 2022, North Dakota became the first U.S. state to announce it would launch a next gen digital credential using a digital wallet for learners. Digital credentials are similar to a paper degree, certificate, or diploma, except they offer an electronic way for people to verify and signal their education. Digital credentials can include traditional academic degrees, shorter-term credentials, and competency-based learning outcomes. Entities that produce digital credentials (“issuers”) include education providers, employers, training providers, universities, and licensing bodies. 

Leading the program are North Dakota Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley, Chief Data Officer Ravi Krishnan, and SLDS Program Manager and Architect Tracy Korsmo, who said they are creating the first state-developed online tool for digital credential publishing. According to a press release from the State of North Dakota, the online tool will provide digital high school transcripts as verifiable credentials with the following benefits:

  • Any high school graduate can present their transcript to an educational institution or employer digitally. 
  • Users of the technology can have all their degrees, certifications, badges, and skills located in one accessible and secure location on their personal devices.
  • It gives individuals control over their learner-employment-experience, to gain access to employment opportunities. It is a benefit to students and lifelong learners of all ages and stages of their careers.
  • It provides a real high school transcript application that will serve the citizen as we shift to a skills-based economy.
State Policy Changes As a Lever for Next Gen Learning

State policy changes can shape and support these new learning ecosystems, credentials, and pathways. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development describes in Building the Future of Education, “Functioning lifelong learning and skills development ecosystems are needed. All forms of learning and diverse providers will have their role to play, and functioning frameworks and structures for recognition and credentialing are needed. These ecosystems would promote a diversity of learning pathways in education and skills systems. Furthermore, addressing challenges such as updating physical infrastructure and cost-efficiency will necessitate redesigning education efficiently through smart combinations of school-based learning and alternative learning spaces and delivery modes.” 

Transforming from a one-size-fits-all education system to learner-centered, competency-based pathways requires new policies and practices to modernize education, and next gen credentials are a key part of that transition. There are clear, actionable steps for state policy leaders to advance this work, and states such as North Dakota, Utah, and Vermont are already paving the way. The time has come for state policy makers to invest in the future by pursuing these policy changes and making student-centered, competency-based next gen credentials and learner records a reality for all learners. 


Laurie Gagnon

Program Director, CompetencyWorks

All blog posts from Laurie Gagnon