The New Frontier of Educational Credentialing

As we have written about in recent posts, the speed with which education is evolving continues to increase, just as we see in other facets of our lives. Now, however, that speed of change in education has picked up to the point where it is increasingly difficult to anticipate the direction in which certain aspects of education will evolve in the future. One area that this applies to, and an area that we are watching closely, is educational credentialing.

The credential is the holy grail of education. How it is earned, given, and held is increasingly important and will be even more so in the future, especially in light of all of the differences we are seeing in K-12 education.

To explain this, let’s consider our own experiences in education. For most of us, our K-12 educational experiences are limited to attending a traditional public school, a private school, or a charter or possibly a voucher school. For most of us, the experiences that we had in those schools — whether in a traditional school in rural America, an urban voucher school in another part of the country, or an elite private school on one of the coasts — were similar in nature in that they largely taught the same subject matter, albeit in different ways at different levels.

But no matter the differences in the schools that we attended, school largely looked like “school.” More importantly, the schools we attended could be classified as a public school, a private school, or a home school but ultimately, we all received high school diplomas. Moreover, if there was any question about whether we graduated from high school, a quick call to the high school where we graduated from all those years ago will confirm our diploma.

Fast forward to today. For most of us, the way that school looks for our children is much different than it did for us, even if the buildings in which the schools operate are largely the same. The changes are significant. For example, just as changes in technology have fundamentally changed the role of the teacher — from the all-knowing “sage on the stage” to the “facilitator of learning” — changes in state and federal educational policies have opened the door to independent charter and voucher schools, fundamentally changing what a public school is and who is operating them.

Just as we saw in higher education, some players in the market sought to reduce the rigor with which a student could receive their diploma, an effort that led to great pushback from the media and the government. Now, many of these players have left the education market.

All of this begs the question, in this new era of education, what is an educational credential? Or, more pointedly, what should make one eligible for a high school diploma, and who is responsible for holding that credential?

To be sure, agencies that are currently responsible for accrediting K-12 schools and higher education play a role in this. But what is keeping these agencies honest when it comes to ensuring proper rigor?

Ultimately, as education continues to change, companies will step into the fold to assist with determining what needs to happen for someone to be awarded a credential, and perhaps, ultimately hold the credential. This evolution will, once again, pose a huge shift in education, and presents a tremendous opportunity for investors in the educational marketplace.

For now, look for companies that are now in this space to consider getting into the K-12 market — an area in which they likely see a huge potential for growth.

Joe Donovan is the principal of Forward Advisors, a national private equity consulting firm that specializes in the K-12 educational marketplace. Joe can be reached at or at (800) 393–5283.

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