Why Alternative Credentials are Taking Hold in Higher Education


The face of the student population in higher education is changing. We no longer live in a world where new students are made up almost exclusively of fresh-faced teens who walk from the high school graduation stage to the college campus. We’re seeing more transfer students looking for a better return on their higher education investment. We’re seeing adult learners at varying stages of life and career.

Not all of these students have the same level of knowledge. Not all of these students acquired their knowledge in a traditional classroom setting. Not all of these students are looking for a bachelor’s degree. Many just want to learn new skills that will help them earn a promotion or raise, or to qualify for a new job.

To be clear, the part of the resume that shows where you went to school and what degree you earned is still very important. However, LinkedIn Learning’s Insider Survey of learning and development experts found that six in 10 believe employers will eventually place more value on competency than a degree. As a result, 57 percent predict employers will prioritize non-traditional credentials, such as those earned in coding boot camps in the IT sector. In other words, employers will be more interested in what you can do than the degree you have earned.

As the makeup of students evolves, and the priorities of both students and employers shift to competency, the traditional higher education credential becomes insufficient. The credential is basically the degree, which offers a rather generic illustration of knowledge in an area of study. Many Americans would benefit by additional education at different times in their lives to gain knowledge and skills that fall outside the traditional degree process.

Some have suggested a new credentialing system based on the credit-hour, which would be far more specific than a degree. However, credit-hours are not universal, and they’re focused more on time spent learning, not mastery of a skill or subject matter. Employers are more interested in what students know and can do.

This is the story that alternative credentials can tell. Alternative credentials provide students with recognition for competency acquired through non-degree coursework, which can then be used to advance their careers. Rather than earning academic credit, students earn digital badges, verified certificates, micro-credentials and nanodegrees that validate specific skills, knowledge or the completion of a certain type of work.

Alternative credentials offer students a more flexible, personalized approach to learning critical skills, and a more meaningful tool for employers to evaluate job candidates. Alternative credentials can be stacked and combined with other credentials to paint a more complete and accurate picture of a student’s ability.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the different types of alternative credentials in more detail and share data that predicts exponential growth in the global alternative credentials market.