By now, most employers are familiar with microcredentials (also referred to as “non-degree credentials”), and many are partnering with higher education institutions on microcredential programs that offer employees a way to upskill or reskill quickly. This increased awareness offers institutions the opportunity for new revenue sources and workforce-aligned programming, which is especially important as enrollment declines and public opinion on the value of a degree shifts to a more skeptical view.

Tracy Chapman, Ph.D., is Chief Academic Officer at Collegis and previously worked as Associate Provost for Distance Education at Saint Louis University, which partnered with Collegis to launch a microcredential program of its own. We asked our resident expert about the benefits and critical components of microcredential programs as well as surveyed her prediction about the potential for this new, short-form programming to replace full academic degrees as a qualification for some jobs.

What benefits does a microcredential program offer to higher education institutions?

Developing a microcredential portfolio relevant for the regional workforce can leverage disciplinary expertise, generate new sources of revenue, and offer degree-seeking students in-demand workforce credentials. For example, consider an institution that builds a portfolio of non-degree credentials that is focused on business skills for non-business majors. Customized versions of the courses can be made available to working professionals through employer partnerships (in which the employer pays the course fees) while standard versions of the courses can be made available to matriculating students at no charge.

For institutions looking to maximize their growth potential in the microcredential market, it’s important to keep the following success factors in mind:

  • Credibility: evidence the content is developed in partnership with the relevant industry
  • Customization: evidence the credential specifically addresses employer needs
  • Current: evidence the content is kept current through regular engagement of industry partnerships
  • Implementation: the administration and learner journey are straightforward and uncomplicated

What are the critical components to consider when launching a microcredential initiative?

Generating meaningful revenue requires the resources, expertise and knowledge of the employer and workforce landscape. Vital components that are typically not already present at the institution include:

  • Business development expertise to find and create sustainable industry partnerships, to sell and resell courses, to provide sales experience relevant to this market, and to create and track financial performance are critical to creating an ongoing stream of learners and, therefore, revenue.
  • A technology ecosystem designed specifically to serve the lifelong learning audience and create the ecommerce experience we have all come to expect (think Amazon).
  • A frictionless journey to find, pay for, and enroll in a course, including self-service solutions to access transcripts and receipts, access user data to inform decision-making, and optimize learner experiences.
  • A learner matriculation experience to ensure a strong start, proactive intervention for those at risk of non-completion, timely responses to requests for assistance, and opportunities for enrolling in subsequent courses.
  • Program and course management to ensure content is relevant, engaging, and succinct as well as to find industry-expert instructors and prepare them for employing best practices in non-degree education.

Do you think microcredentials will become a more mainstream job qualification within the near five years, or will full academic degrees continue to be required?

Employer hiring practices will be a key driver of microcredential growth. During times of high unemployment, such as the Great Recession, employers added degree attainment as a hiring requirement. This additional requirement was primarily a strategy for sorting through large applicant pools, not necessarily based on job function requirements. In today’s environment of low unemployment, employers are rethinking their hiring requirements, often removing the degree as a hiring requirement. This combination of fewer jobs requiring degrees and the proliferation of quality, workforce relevant non-degree credentials sets the stage for lasting changes in hiring practices.

Over the next 5+ years, I believe we will see a more intentional and thoughtful alignment of job functions and educational preparation. In other words, a more realistic pairing of job functions with education requirements. Degree attainment will continue to be required for specific jobs while the degree will be permanently replaced by non-degree credential attainment for others.

What does research say about employers’ views toward microcredentials?

Collegis teamed up with the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) to survey over 500 employers about their understanding of microcredential programs and whether they are interested in partnering with a higher education institution on these non-degree programs. The report reveals good news for colleges and universities interested in developing a program. Download the full report for complete details.

Author: Jessica Conte

Jessica Conte is a content specialist with experience working in higher education. She holds a B.A. in English and an MBA from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.