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Survey: 7 in 10 College Leaders Say Microcredentials Could Help Enrollment and Revenue

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Microcredentials are increasingly finding a home in higher education to provide students with opportunities to boost skills quickly in new areas, supplement existing course and degree offerings rapidly, and provide programs that can help institutions compete against alternative education formats such as bootcamps. According to a new survey, seven in 10 higher education leaders (71 percent) said that "alternative credentials" could help them achieve institutional revenue and enrollment goals. Yet, just 60 percent considered credential initiatives "totally" or "very" aligned with their institutions' strategic plans.

Those findings came out of a survey done among the members and readers, respectively, of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and The EvoLLLution, an online magazine published by education technology company Modern Campus. Modern Campus produces platforms to help schools develop and manage alternative programs.

The survey team analyzed responses from 606 campus leaders on a wide range of questions related to credentials. The results were shared in a new report, "Shifting Paradigms: Understanding Institutional Perspectives on Microcredentialing." The goal of the project was to understand progress in the field along with success factors, to help institutions design programs "that will be valued by both students and employers, mitigate internal hurdles surrounding new program development and illustrate potential best practices."

The basic idea of the microcredential is that the student can complete the credential on his or her own timeline rather than through a fixed period; focus on a discrete set of skills and knowledge; and prove competency or mastery by providing evidence and artifacts, such as videos that show the new skills in use. Traditionally, microcredentials have gained pickup among continuing, professional and workforce education providers.

Among the key findings were these:

  • Large-enrollment institutions — those with 15,000 or more students — were the most likely to "embrace" microcredentials (60 percent), compared to small (48 percent) and medium schools (46 percent).
  • The target audience for credentials wasn't undergraduate students, but rather those seeking professional advancement (66 percent) and doing workforce development (55 percent).
  • That meshes with another outcome: Seventy-nine percent of respondents considered labor and occupational data "extremely" or "very important" in forming new credential initiatives.
  • More than 9 in 10 respondents (92 percent) said that alternative credentials could help their colleges and universities "compete with emerging entities like bootcamps."
  • And 54 percent of survey participants said their institutions have embraced new credentialing initiatives, while nearly a third (30 percent) said they haven't.

"This report provides us a first real look at how higher education leaders across the industry are adopting and leveraging alternative credentialing models," said Jim Fong, chief research officer and director of the Center for Research and Strategy at UPCEA, in a statement. "The new economy demands highly skilled individuals who do not necessarily need degrees to enter or advance in their field. Microcredentials and other alternative credential options provide them the opportunity to achieve their goals, and as an industry we need to find ways to meet the needs of employers and adults — and especially of Millennial and Generation Z students."

"Microcredentials and other alternative credentials are a key to competitiveness for higher education institutions in this fast-changing environment," added Amrit Ahluwalia, editor-in-chief of The EvoLLLution and director of strategic insights at Modern Campus. "These programs have to be high quality because it's what students and employers demand, but they generally don't have to go through incredibly long accreditation processes. This means they can be launched and offered to the students who need them more quickly."

"Shifting Paradigms: Understanding Institutional Perspectives on Microcredentialing" is available with registration through the Modern Campus website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected]ser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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