Alternative Credentials Earn Their Place in Higher Ed

shutterstock_5924815Alternative credentials are increasingly relevant to schools, students and employers. The majority of higher education institutions offer non-degree credentials in some form or another. Alternative credentials are aligned to training and skills that students need to acquire quickly to keep up with fast changes in technology. They also can narrow the gap that employers and schools have regarding readiness of students to succeed in the workplace.

The UPCEA/Pearson survey Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials defines alternative credentials as competencies, skills and learning outcomes based on assessment-based, non-degree activities. Alternative credentials align to specific needs in the workforce. Because they are based on non-degree activities and assessments they have flexibility that benefits all parties.

School Increase Alternative Credentials
IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Date System) data shows an increase in non-degree education awards and certificates from fewer than 600,000 in 2001-2002 to almost one million in 2013-2014. The UPCEA/Pearson survey shows that:
• alternative credentials are offered by 94 percent of the 190 institutions surveyed
• institutions that engage more with business value non-degree credentials more than institution that do not
• 64 percent of responding schools strongly or somewhat agreed that alternative credentialing is important in their future
• 39 percent of schools strongly or somewhat agree that their schools accept non-degree credentialing as an opportunity to serve their students

Students See Value of Credentials
For students alternative credentials are an efficient way to engage in life-long learning. The Pearson survey Sharpening their Skills for the Workplace shows that adult workers know that they need to upgrade skills to advance in their professions.
• 68% of those surveyed say they are likely to enroll in a degree or certificate program in the next five years
• 46% said say their primary reason for deciding to go back to school or continue their education is to improve their earning potential
• A majority of students way want a higher education provider to offer useful skills and knowledge for the job market

Census Bureau data from 2014 shows that 30 percent of the adult population has an alternative credentials. These allow employees to demonstrate their skills and competencies to employers, and offer faster and less costly opportunities to learn skills than can be found in a degree program. Many degree holders earn certificates from their professional organizations as a way to update skills.

Employers Benefit from Alternative Credentials
One of the qualities of alternative credentials is that they align with skills or other needs in the workplace. They present an opportunity for employees and employers to collaborate on aligning courses that employees take with positions that need filled and skills that need developed. Both employers and employees can be sure that course objectives meet business goals.

Alternative credentials also present an opportunity for employers and higher education institutions to close the perception gap regarding graduate readiness for the workplace. An Inside Higher Ed study by Gallup reports that 96 percent of higher education chief officers believe their school is very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the workplace. Employers and business leaders do not feel this way. They say graduates do not have necessary skills. Seeking alternative credentials is a timely and efficient way for employees to meet employer needs.