The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a startling impact on college enrollment. More than 1 million fewer students are going to college than before the pandemic began. It’s the largest enrollment decline in five decades. It’s also an acceleration of a downward trend higher education had already been grappling with for a decade.
At the same time, interest in shorter-term non-degree options is on the rise. Two in five working-age adults have completed a non-degree credential and more than 80 percent of executives, supervisors, and HR professionals now say that alternative credentials bring value to the workplace.
At a time of significant disruption in the economy, institutions, employers, and workers are all finding they must embrace a philosophy of continuous lifelong learning. It’s a shift enabled by the proliferation of short-term microcredentials. Over the past decade, the number of such offerings has sharply risen. There now exist at least 1 million different credentials, spanning apprenticeships, certificates, digital badges, industry-recognized certifications, and licenses.
Here are three reasons why microcredentials are poised to go mainstream.
Closing Skills Gaps
Students and employers alike recognize there is a growing misalignment between traditional higher education and the labor market. While finding a job ranks as the primary reason students attend college, just one-quarter of working Americans who attended college strongly believe that their education is relevant to their work life. Employers have long echoed those concerns, arguing many graduates are unprepared for starting their careers.
Microcredentials are helping fill these gaps, allowing workers and learners to gain critical new skills in less time and for less money. The credentials allow for non-linear sequencing of learn-to-earn models, greater flexibility in scheduling, and more freedom for learners to stay in their current jobs. These are all crucial advantages for busy adult learners who are balancing work and family obligations while pursuing new skills to get ahead in their existing careers. Indeed, research suggests the majority of those enrolling in and completing microcredential programs already have at least an undergraduate degree.
Addressing Equity Challenges
By allowing learners to access faster, lower-cost pathways to career advancement, microcredentials also have the power to act as one part of the solution to long-standing inequities in education and the workforce.
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