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Report: Colleges And Universities Should Offer More Alternative Credentials

Younger students are more interested in alternatives to traditional degree offerings, such as microcredentials, certificates and other short-term opportunities, according to a new report from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and Blackboard.

"I think over time, as traditional education continues to increase, then one could surmise that the value of other educational offerings (those in smaller bundles) may have more traction," said Jim Fong, director of the center for research and strategy at UPCEA and co-author of the report. "Also, later in the survey, we see that younger generations tend to be more willing return to college and acquire more learning. We have interpreted that as 'the bachelor's degree is not the member card to all things.' We also know that younger generations prefer just-in-time learning, as we can see higher usage and adoption rates of DIY videos on YouTube, Kahn Academy and even some data from demographic results released from MOOC providers."

The report, "Navigating Generational Shifts: Understanding Today's Student Demographics, Preferences and Expectations," surveyed 1,080 individuals and segmented them by age to determine if there was variation in the expectations different age groups had around higher education.

When asked, "How interested are you in earning an educational, professional or skill-based certificate or badge in the future," the oldest respondents, those in Generation X, were least likely to say they were very or somewhat interested, at 27 and 30 percent, respectively. Seventy-three percent of the youngest millennials surveyed said they were at least somewhat interested in such credentials and 78 percent of respondents from Generation Z said they were somewhat or very interested.

"When considering these specialized options, institutions need to tie their relevance to the job market and outcomes," said Christina Fleming, Blackboard student lifecycle services and co-author of the report. "If employer partnerships are possible they can provide a new recruitment channel and offer an opportunity to directly support the value of the certificate or credential. Furthermore, these shorter options offer students the ability to experience the university and may ultimately lead to future enrollment in other programs or courses. Any time a relationship or exchange with a student can be opened up, there's a current or future recruitment opportunity opened up, as well."

"I think if universities want to continue to promote higher cost credentials, i.e. degrees, then they should look at stackable certificates or other intermediate credentials as one builds toward a degree such as a master's degree," added Fong. "I think that smaller bites may improve longevity within a program, but I can't necessarily say it will be the retention solution. I do think that it will help create reasonable and more manageable milestones that should help improve retention."

The youngest millennials, those aged 21-25, were more likely than any other age group to report seeking online reviews and ratings about colleges they were interested in attending.  They also said they were more likely to email or call someone at the institution or talk with a friend, family member or co-worker about the college or university. All age groups said they were likely to browse the institution's website for information at similar rates of about 80 percent.

Younger respondents were also generally more likely than older respondents to say that a response from an institution is important to them, whether it be via email, telephone or social media, though social media was rated lower than the other two.

"I think this can be interpreted a few ways," said Fong. "I think they expect a formal response electronically and email appears to be the official response outside of a postal letter. The call back is most likely reinforcement that their inquiry was heard and that a dialogue or personal response … is expected."

The full report is available on the Blackboard site.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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