The traditional system of higher education puts students’ focus on earning, at minimum, a four-year degree. The traditional student is fresh out of high school and entering college or university with the intent of completing those four years consecutively and graduating with a degree in hand. That traditional student, however, is no longer typical. Statistics show that more than 47 percent of people entering college are over 25 years old, and 40 percent of those are over 35. Many are actively working, have families, are returning to school with plans to change careers, or are seeking specific new skills or training to enter or advance in the workforce.
To serve the goals of these nontraditional students, an increasing number of institutions—and in particular, community and technical colleges—have developed “stackable credentials” as a component of their degree programs, or even as standalone certifications.
The U.S. Department of Labor defines stackable credentials as those that are “part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time and move an individual along a career pathway or up a career ladder.” In other words, stackable credentials, which are developed to support industry needs, are building blocks or incremental milestones that assist students in acquiring marketable skills at several points as they work towards degree completion or workplace advancement.