At Husson University, stackable credentials give students a chance to earn a credential in a specialized field of study with just four or five college courses

How stackable credentials let students customize their learning

At Husson University, stackable credentials give students a chance to earn a credential in a specialized field of study with just four or five college courses

After reviewing the academic result of the 2020-2021 school year, Husson University noticed an important trend among its students in the College of Business and the New England School of Communications. As a prelude to earning degrees, students are completing stackable credentials they can use to demonstrate mastery of a particular area of knowledge to potential employers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a stackable credential is “part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up an individual’s qualifications and help them to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs.” In general, stackable credentials are shorter-term programs that can lead to higher-level credentials.

At Husson University, certificate programs consist of four to five courses. After completing a certificate, students can apply their course credits toward a degree. This is valuable to students who may be considering completing a more comprehensive program of study.

“Supplementing degrees with a certificate is also very beneficial,” said Marie Hansen, JD, PhD, SHRM-SCP, dean of Husson University’s College of Business and New England School of Communications (NESCom). “Students interested in specialized careers can now use certificates to demonstrate mastery of particular areas of expertise. This helps make students more attractive to hiring professionals who are looking for employees with specific skill sets.”

Kyleigh Moore, Class of 2021, is a good example of this practice. In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science in mass communications with a concentration in marketing communications, Moore earned five separate certificates in business administration, digital and social media marketing, graphic design, radio broadcasting, and web media. During her final semester at Husson University, Moore was named to the President’s List. Students who earn President’s List honors must be enrolled as an undergraduate student, carry a full-time load of 12 credit hours, complete all attempted courses in the time allotted for the semester, and achieve a 3.80 to 4.0 semester grade-point average.

“The certificate programs at Husson University helped me to distinguish myself from other job applicants,” said Moore. “Marketing is so much more than print media. Today’s marketers need to understand social media, graphics and broadcasting to be effective. In addition, it’s important to have business knowledge in order to address budget issues and be an effective creative project manager.”

“The options available at Husson University allowed me to create a customized educational plan that suited my needs as a future communication professional,” continued Moore. “As a result, I was able to get a full-time job immediately following graduation as a marketing and event manager with the United Way of Eastern Maine. Adding different certificates to my degree definitely worked for me.”

Husson University has also launched a new certificate program in conservation law enforcement. Live on-campus classes for this new certificate program will begin on August 30 as part of the upcoming Fall 2021 semester.

“Our university’s reputation as a leading educator of law enforcement professionals is well established,” said John Michaud, director of Husson’s School of Legal Studies. “Expanding our offerings to include this certificate program builds on the solid legal and criminal justice education already available to students here at Husson. Individuals who earn this certificate will be well prepared for careers in environmental protection since they’ll learn from faculty members who have both academic expertise and professional experience in their discipline.”

One of these faculty members is Assistant Professor Lori Perez. Prior to joining Husson University, Perez was a faculty member and the chair of the conservation law enforcement (CLE) program at Unity College. She also worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a federal wildlife officer stationed in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Maine. 

Perez feels that the program at Husson offers distinct advantages for students. “This certificate is a great opportunity for students who are interested in protecting the natural resources and want to become a state game warden, national park ranger, marine patrol officer, U.S. Forest Service ranger or federal wildlife officer, to name a few.

Students who earn a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice with a Certificate in conservation law enforcement can also apply to attend the Maine Criminal Justice Academy as a tuition student while attending Husson University. This is beneficial for graduates interested in employment opportunities with the Maine State Warden Service or other law enforcement agencies.

Certificate programs are a great way for working professionals to refresh their current skill set or learn some new skills that will keep them marketable. Employers like creating customized certificates because they assist their training and employee retention efforts.

And more and more institutions are recognizing stackable credentials as a valuable option for students.

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.

For the past calendar year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant number of students have turned to online courses to earn certificates or credentials in anticipation of returning to a changed workplace, to better their chances for advancement in their field, or to obtain the necessary training to find a new occupation.

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