Micro-accreditations will become widespread – perhaps even preferred
In recent years, “micro-accreditations” and badges have been discussed as a means of certifying market skills and knowledge. There is even speculation that they will replace or erode degrees.
Yet such non-degree certifications are nothing new in higher education: colleges already offer certifications in everything from digital marketing to data analytics to cosmetology.
What’s new is that we call them badges and micro-accreditations and use them primarily to certify specific skills, such as intercultural skills, welding and conversational Spanish.
So what are they? Micro-accreditations are masters certifications; badges verify the acquisition of specific skills.
No matter what we call them, they just might be here to stay.
Last year, around 68% of adults considering enrolling in education preferred non-degree pathways, up from 50% the year before, found a study by Strada Education, a nonprofit focused on the creation of bridges between education and employment.
Certificates and diplomas have coexisted for more than two hundred years: Yale established the first certificate program two centuries ago for students who took only science and English classes.
And while degrees and certificates seem destined to coexist, actual institutional degrees have always enjoyed a higher status as a much more valuable degree – but there are now several factors that are likely to redress the balance between them.
Over the years, certificate programs, both in technical fields and in professions, have become commonplace: two in five Americans of working age have a post-secondary degree without a degree. A study over 40 years ago found that 21 percent of four-year arts and science colleges and 28 percent of vocational schools award certificates.
Today, they’re even more common in two-year schools: in 2019, community colleges issued 852,504 associate’s degrees and 579,822 certificates.
There is also a growing perception that university degrees lose value in the job market, even though this may prove to be temporary. Some reputable employers no longer require college degrees for employment, including Google, Ernst and Young, Penguin Random House, Hilton, Apple, Nordstrom, IBM, Lowe’s, Publix, Starbucks, Bank of America, Whole Foods, Costco and Chipotle, according to a January 2020 report.
The waning relevance of degrees is attracting media attention: There are many stories about prominent tech titans – such as Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Evan Williams, and Mark Zuckerberg – who never graduated from college.
Public attitudes are also changing. A 2019 Gallup poll found that a decreasing proportion of Americans consider a college degree to be very important – from 70% in 2013 to 51% in 2019.
The reasons for degree skepticism are worth noting: 60% of those surveyed said that people often graduate without specific job skills and with a high amount of debt. At the same time, 36% agreed that you can get a good job without a college degree and college is not worth the cost. These are exactly the same most-cited reasons for enrolling in certificate programs, which are now offered by great non-traditional providers.
Over the years, certificate programs, both in technical fields and in professions, have become commonplace.
Times of profound change like the Industrial Revolution and the present produce experimentation and trigger change. New degrees like the doctorate. and the associate degree were created during the industrial revolution: the master’s degree was no longer honorary.
Over time, established degrees have become more specialized. Many new disciplinary bachelor’s degrees have emerged, most notably the Bachelor of Science, which was developed to help distinguish between students who completed a rigorous arts program and those who studied a lesser science program.
Certificate programs have also multiplied, especially after the development of continuing education units at the end of the 19th century. New degrees like the Sister of the Arts and the Mistress of the Arts have gone down in history.
We now live in an era that is more open to rethinking college and university degrees. We are witnessing the experimentation of a competency-based education, whereby students get credits by demonstrating their skills instead of spending time in class. We’re also seeing discussions about free or reduced tuition, as well as subscription rates that allow students to take as many courses as they want for one low price.
Related: Urgency to Get People Back to Work Gives New Momentum to ‘Micro-accreditations’
In addition, there is the growth of non-college education providers, including museums and industry, as well as new higher education-business partnerships. Coursera, the world’s largest microcredit provider, allows students to take month-long courses to develop their skills for higher paying jobs.
The growing need for new skills, the growth in specializations of the workforce, and the global pandemic promise to generate a population looking for short-term credentials through programs that are generally discrete one-off events.
Degrees awarded by industries and other non-traditional providers will be available when and where consumers want them and without worrying about earning credits for the degrees.
Last year, around 68% of adults considering enrolling in education preferred non-degree pathways
Colleges and universities no longer have a monopoly on credentials. Micro-degrees, which are largely unregulated, are likely to gain in value, making higher education increasingly vulnerable to competition.
Traditional colleges and universities will need to demonstrate why the education they offer is superior or risks the kind of disruption that film, music and newspapers have faced, and that has led to video and music streaming and the decline of music. newspaper industry. Schools can learn a lot about the mistakes made by these industries.
Arthur Levine is Distinguished Scholar of Higher Education at New York University and President Emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and Teachers College at Columbia University. Scott Van Pelt is the Associate Director of the Communication Program at The Wharton School. Together they wrote “The great upheaval: the past, the present and the uncertain future of higher education.
This story on micro-accreditations was produced by The Hechinger report, an independent, non-profit news organization focused on inequalities and innovation in education. Sign up for The Hechinger newsletter.