Alternative pathways: Perks, but there also many pitfalls

Two higher education experts discuss the overarching benefits of higher ed alternative pathways, as well as the roadblocks and pitfalls to their success.

Career and Technical Education (CTE), competency-based learning, digital badging, credentialing, and coding bootcamps are becoming some of the fastest-growing, and oft-discussed, alternative pathways for learning in higher education—mainly due to the promise of entry in today’s increasingly selective job market. But do these non-traditional on-ramps to postsecondary ed always lead to successful implementations within institutions; and are students really getting their investments’ worth?

In our recent Symposium, two higher education experts—one specializing in education research and one in policy analysis—discuss the overarching benefits of alternative higher-ed pathways, as well as the roadblocks and pitfalls to their success.

Though both agree that non-traditional learning pathways are needed for today’s diverse student body seeking entry into the job market, Alana Dunagan, higher education researcher at the Clayton Christensen Institute discusses traditional programs’ problems in implementation and adaptation of multiple career-based pathways.

In “3 Alternative Pathways Primed to Disrupt Higher Education,” Dunagan writes:

“Traditional learning models have been protected not only by regulation, but also by the mystique of the four-year degree. With limited ability to assess competencies and skills, employers have used the bachelor’s degree—and the prestige of the institution that granted it—as a proxy for the information in which they were really interested. So far, bootcamps have provided the clearest evidence that this won’t always be the case, and as badging and competency-based programs become more standardized and accepted by employers, traditional students may begin to see value in them as well.

Will traditional institutions begin to incorporate these new trends into their programming?

So far, there are limited examples of established institutions adopting alternative credentialing. A few institutions are exploring badging, and many are offering online courses, but most traditional institutions are proceeding with business as usual. In fact, what has been notable so far is the lackof success in implementing innovative pathways, even where institutions have made impressive efforts to do so.”

(Next page: Alternative pathways often lead to dead-ends—but why?)