American employers are well aware that many graduates majored in fun.

Some institutions, recognizing this fact, want to demonstrate that their degree programs actually have real value in today’s job market.

So, Northern Arizona University gets an A-plus for a new program that offers competency-based degrees, which will come with a new form of transcripts.

Paul Fain of Insider Higher Ed has the details:

Students who enroll in a new competency-based program at Northern Arizona University will earn a second transcript, which will describe their proficiency in the online bachelor degree’s required concepts. The university will also teach students how to share their “competency report” transcripts with potential employers.

The university shared a sample version of a competency report. The document looks nothing like its traditional counterpart, and lacks courses or grades.

Northern Arizona’s first crack at a transcript grounded in competencies gives an early glimpse of how credentialing in higher education might be shifting, experts said. And while the competency reports could be improved, some said, the university also deserves credit (no pun intended) for attempting to better-define what students do to earn their degrees.

“Our employer studies show that employers basically find the transcript useless in evaluating job candidates,” Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said in an e-mail message. “Higher education definitely needs to start fresh with a redesign of its public descriptions of student accomplishment.”

Clifford Adelman agrees. Adelman is a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy and an expert on credentialing. He suggested several possible upgrades to a sample competency-based transcript from Northern Arizona, particularly the use of more specific language and fewer “generalized verbs.” But Adelman also said the university was headed in the right direction.

“God bless them for actually trying,” he said. “These are more effective statements than listing courses.”

Northern Arizona is one of three universities that have jumped headfirst into competency-based education by offering “direct assessment” academic programs, which are self-paced and completely untethered from the credit hour.

…The competency-based approach has critics, some of whom say its focus on industrial-style efficiencies will shortchange lower-income students.

Even so, more colleges will get into the direct-assessment game soon, experts predict.