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Florida A&M University (FAMU) recently began working with Suitable to implement micro-credentials and digital badges throughout their student journey to better encourage and recognize their students’ learning and engagement. Due to the new House Bills passed in Florida’s Senate, and the increase in workplace demand for micro-credentials, FAMU has constructed their Rattler Ready initiative. The Rattler Ready experience begins with a Career Action Plan that helps students develop a career roadmap. This roadmap incorporates career readiness via FAMU’s Strike Forward program that facilitates the development of financial literacy, professional communication and other competencies within the FAMU General Education framework.
Florida A&M University is a public, historically Black university located in Tallahassee, Florida founded in 1887. With nearly 100 different degrees and programs, FAMU has enrollment of around 9,000 students. FAMU has been ranked as the number one public HBCU in the country by U.S. News and World Report for the past four years. Most recently, FAMU moved up to the 103rd best public institution in all of the United States.
As a university in Florida, FAMU is governed by performance-based funding metrics of which includes employment outcomes. This metric can be measured as the percentage of Bachelor’s graduates employed earning over $25,000 or enrolled in graduate school one year after graduation, or by the median wages of Bachelor’s graduates employed full-time one year after graduation. Additionally, the state has passed two House Bills to be part of its Career Readiness Legislation. House Bill 1261 requires all first-year and transfer students to develop a career action plan. In the case of FAMU, these students must meet with a career coach to discuss their career plans in order to register for classes the following semester. House Bill 1507 asks Florida institutions to recognize students with digital badges to ensure they are gaining exposure and developing the eight NACE competencies throughout their general education.
FAMU is looking to abide by the House Bills while improving their performance-based metrics. Implementing their Rattler Ready Program through Suitable is the first major step in accomplishing those goals.
In early 2021, FAMU had pockets of data across the university’s various platforms that had to be manually, and therefore, inefficiently tracked. One of those platforms was Handshake. FAMU used this platform in an effort to reach every student on campus. However, updating their profile or uploading their resume relied completely on the student.
Not only was it difficult to get in front of the students, but progress in co-curricular activities was hard to measure. Even though FAMU was offering co-curricular activities, they were unable to track who attended and what progress those students were making in their education. There was no scalable way to grow and measure co-curricular engagement or track and assess student progress. Without a tracking system, FAMU had no vehicle to provide students with a comprehensive record of their co-curricular involvement, accomplishments and competencies.
When looking for a solution to implement their new initiatives that aligned with Florida’s House Bills, the FAMU team considered three main factors: ease of use for students, ability to integrate with other systems and reporting capabilities. Suitable was the only one that checked all those boxes!
In the summer of 2021, FAMU began to develop the Rattler Ready Program. Composed of the Strike Forward Initiative and Career Action Plan, the Rattler Ready experience integrates career readiness competencies into academic programs to prepare graduates for a successful transition into the workplace and post-graduate life. Through the use of micro-credentials, digital badges and co-curricular pathways for success, Suitable helped FAMU centralize its career readiness efforts into one app that maintained an engaging and accessible experience for students.
To begin building micro-credentials, FAMU turned to employer feedback and the NACE competencies. Instead of using all eight competencies, FAMU focused on six: technology, career and self development, professionalism, teamwork, critical thinking and communication. These competencies are integrated into the curriculum through micro-credentials with support from the entire university.
Online representation of these micro-credentials on Suitable can be shared via social media outlets and take the form of digital badges. Suitable’s digital badging system is crucial for FAMU’s Career Action Plan with each academic year functioning as a separate, but all-encompassing digital badge.
There are various requirements students must accomplish before officially earning their year’s badge. Specifically for first-year students, they must complete a Canvas module which introduces the Career Action Plan and FAMU’s career services. From there, all students must meet with a career specialist to develop and upload their Career Action Plan to Suitable, which is used to supplement their future career development meetings. FAMU students who don’t complete these crucial experiences will be unable to register for classes the following semester. In addition to the Career Action Plan, there is a full list of different co-curricular activities students can choose from that align with their career journey to earn their digital badges. For example, art majors may earn credit toward their digital badge if they visit a museum or put on an art show.
In the summer of 2022, FAMU defined its general education competencies which were seamlessly tied into their digital badges and configured in Suitable. For specific general education courses, such as English Composition, students who passed the course with a C or better would earn a Communications Skills badge. The student’s grade in class would determine the badge’s level.
The final piece of FAMU’s Rattler Ready Program and Career Action Plan is the Strike Forward Initiative that was created after FAMU received funding from the Bank of America. Strike Forward is a four year guided co-curricular pathway that paves the way for on-time graduation and post-graduate employment.
The co-curricular pathway features four milestones and is implemented through Suitable’s digital badging system. There are four categories: academic success, financial wellness, career development and social integration. FAMU chose these four milestones based on the barriers the FAMU team saw as it relates to student progression and career readiness.
Academic success skills incentivize and gamify students doing activities relating to their curricular success, such as participating in learning center activities and meeting with an academic coach. To help students financially, FAMU developed the financial wellness milestone to incentivize students to re-enroll. These activities include completing the FAFSA or attending a scholarship workshop. The career development milestone involves students completing specific tasks within Strike Forward that also align with their Career Action Plan. The final milestone of social integration assists students with thinking strategically about where they engage on campus and how it can connect to their future. FAMU also provides students with opportunities to participate in the peer mentoring programs and mental wellness workshops.
Students that complete these milestones and badges can earn incentives, such as FAMU-branded backpacks and gift cards, or even internal internships. Additionally, students gain peace of mind when completing the milestones because they have Suitable’s Co-Curricular Transcript, which helps students articulate their readiness. It works by automatically recording their various experiences and translating them into skills as the student progresses.
The Rattler Ready experience encourages freshmen students to get involved immediately. This has helped students find and meet their career specialists who are responsible for helping build their Career Action Plan. The ease of use and high quality experiences have led to nearly almost 90% of students completing their Career Action Plan during their first year. This is great news for career specialists since they can now focus more time on helping students continue developing their roadmaps to success versus getting through the basics.
With Suitable, FAMU is able to effectively track and integrate the Career Action Plan into the student experience. Specifically in the Strike Forward Program, there has been an increase in engagement. Overall, FAMU has been able to more effectively measure engagement regarding student completion of milestones directly on the app while simultaneously involving the whole campus from top institutional leadership to students.
Since the Rattler Ready program and Suitable partnership is just beginning, the FAMU team plans to create a Rattler Ready website that provides information to students about digital badging, as well as other important tools and resources. To further raise awareness about Rattler Ready, FAMU will implement a student-led communication plan by leveraging peer ambassadors to promote the program.
Additionally, the Strike Forward initiative will be integrated into all first-year experience courses. Students will have to complete various activities on Suitable, such as coursework and co-curricular events, as part of their curriculum and final grade. As for the Career Action Plan, FAMU wants to introduce this during orientation and welcome week so that students are aware of it from the moment they step on campus. FAMU also plans to integrate the Career Action Plan into specific academic programs so that the different departments are working alongside the career and professional development center to ensure students are doing what is necessary as related to their major. To keep students on track within their department, the FAMU team will build academic unit specific badges as well.
Since the implementation of Rattler Ready through Suitable, the FAMU team has been happy with student engagement. However, FAMU knows this program is a true way of elevating the student experience. In the long run, they would like to reach a 90% Career Action Plan completion rate with their first-year students and attain a 75% student engagement rate in Strike Forward.