Learning happens in multiple ways. And today there are multiple ways for people to demonstrate the knowledge they have attained and skills they have mastered. Before earning a degree, after earning a degree, or instead of a degree, non-degree credentials are a way for people to validate they have mastered specific skills and attained valuable knowledge. Non-degree credentials are a way for people to demonstrate that they are continuing to learn, can bridge skills gaps and be a valuable asset to their employers.
Non-degree certificates, certifications and licenses each show a level of mastery and competence in a specific field. Each one has value for the person who has earned it. Jonathan Finkelstein, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Credly, says that “While a bachelor’s degree is increasingly regarded as a requirement on job applications, it basically serves as little more than a first cut in reducing the number of applicants to an individual job. What actually helps a person get a job is their specific skill set.”
Three different non-degree credentials demonstrate specific skill sets: Educational certificate, certification, and license. Educational certificates validate that students have the ability to perform a specific job. Students earn a certificate after they demonstrate, through an examination process, that they have designated knowledge and skills. Higher education institutions award certificates, usually for life, like a degree.
Certifications show that students have mastered designated skills and abilities to perform a job. Either written tests, performance based assessment, or both can demonstrate mastery. Certification bodies awards certifications. Certifications are time-limited and renewable through a recertification process. Examples include Information technology and project management professional certifications.
Licenses are based on a combination of qualifying factors such as certifications, assessments, and/or work experience. Government bodies or a legal authority awards licenses. Licenses, also, are time-limited and must be renewed periodically. Examples are cosmetology licenses and teacher’s licenses.
The number of non-degree credentials awarded has increased tremendously in recent years. From 2000–01 to 2015–16, the number of certificates below the associate’s level awarded by public institutions increased by 99 percent, from 310,000 to 615,000.
US Department of Education data shows that 27 percent of adults hold at least one certificate, certification or license. The non-degree credentials are beneficial: In a Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce survey 76 percent of respondents said the last postsecondary certificate was very or somewhat useful in getting them a job. Eight-three percent said their certificate program had improved their work skills and 58 percent is helped increase their pay.
Advances in technology, consumer demands for new products and productions changes all create an environment where workers’ must be able to quickly and efficiently acquire new skills that will help them adapt. Higher education has responded to business need to fill skills gaps and workers’ need for fast skill development, by developing and delivering non-degree credentials.
For employers non-degree credentials are a valuable component of a tuition assistance programs. These credentials offer training and skill development that make it possible for businesses to fill skill gaps with current employees. Educating current employees to have in-demand skills reduces the need to hire and train new employees. Supporting skill development through employee training and acquisition of non-degree credentials is both effective and efficient for all stakeholders.
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