By looking at skills-based learning and microcredentials, institutions can directly connect degree programs to the workforce.

Students say this specific thing helps them stand out in the workforce

By adopting skills-based learning, higher education institutions can fill gaps in their curricula and directly connect their degree programs to the labor market

Each year, we share our 10 most-read stories. Not surprisingly, many of this year’s Top 10 focused on microcredentials, the student experience, non-traditional students, and the post-pandemic campus. This year’s 4th most-read story focuses on how microcredentials help students stand out.

An overwhelming majority of surveyed students say they believe earning microcredentials or professional certificates will better position them for employment upon graduation, according to new data from Coursera.

Coursera surveyed 3,600 students and employers in Australia, India, France, Germany, Mexico, Turkey, the UK, and the U.S. to understand the motivations and challenges facing different groups as they finish their education and enter the workforce.

Most students rank job opportunities as their top criteria in choosing a postsecondary path, and ranking a close second is the ability to develop real-world skills and increase earning potential. Students rely on higher education to prepare them to meet their professional goals, but many students feel their institutions are not meeting expectations. Many institutions aren’t keeping pace with teaching students the skills and knowledge needed to compete in today’s workforce, and gaps between education and industry leave students underprepared.

When given 10 options, 43 percent of students identified their ability to get a job among the top three factors motivating their decision to enroll in a degree program. Employability was second in importance only to a school’s location—and more important than its academic strength, reputation, and cost. As students increasingly base their decision to pursue higher education on their desired career outcomes, colleges and universities must take action to support student employability in order to remain competitive.

More than 50 percent of students struggle to both decide what job to pursue and understand what employers are looking for. Receiving a job offer is the endpoint of a broader employability journey: one that begins with becoming aware of and exploring a range of career options. Determining the skills needed to pursue a desired career, and acquiring these skills through a focused plan of study, requires insight into industry dynamics that many higher education institutions are not equipped to provide.

Nearly 90 percent of students either agree or strongly agree that earning professional certificates or microcredentials will help them stand out to employers and secure jobs when they graduate. Combined with the importance that students place on employability, this may explain why including professional certificates in an academic program makes students, on average, 75 percent more likely to enroll in that program.

Professional certificates help hiring decisionmakers solve for their top two challenges: identifying and validating applicants’ skills. When hiring recent university graduates, 42 percent of employers report difficulty sourcing candidates with the specific skills needed for the job, while 36 percent struggle to verify that candidates have the right level of skills proficiency. These challenges apply to both technology and human skills, which employers report are also the most difficult to find in the applicant pool.

Employers both recognize and value professional certificates: they are on average 76 percent more likely to hire a candidate who has earned one. When presented with a range of hiring scenarios that include both a candidate with a professional certificate and a candidate without one, hiring decision-makers repeatedly expressed a strong preference for the candidate with a professional certificate. In line with this finding, 92 percent of employers either agree or strongly agree that a professional certificate strengthens a candidate’s application.

The report also offers recommendations for institutions:

  1. By adopting skills-based learning, higher education institutions can fill gaps in their curricula and directly connect their degree programs to the labor market.
  2. Employers are taking note, expressing strong interest in skills-based credentials like professional certificates as complements to traditional academic degrees.
  3. By earning a professional certificate alongside their degree, students pair their academic knowledge with job-specific skills that employers both recognize and value.

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Laura Ascione

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