6 views on growing nontraditional student credentials

Health care and transportation are the most popular short-term credentials
By: | October 8, 2020
Nontraditional-age students seeking to develop new skills after COVID-era layoffs have less access to Pell Grants and other financial aid. (GettyImages/Tom Werner)Nontraditional-age students seeking to develop new skills after COVID-era layoffs have less access to Pell Grants and other financial aid. (GettyImages/Tom Werner)

While many in higher ed want to see more adults earning credentials and certifications, hurdles remain for institutions trying to grow their short-term programs for nontraditional students, a new report finds.

Colleges will likely see an influx of older students who’ve lost jobs and want to learn new skills in the wake of COVID’s economic upheaval.

The Great Recession saw college enrollment grow by 2.5 million students, due in large part to a surge in nontraditional-age students, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

However, financial aid is not as readily available to adults lacking postsecondary attainment.


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For example, the new NASFAA report found that institutions struggle to fill short-term programs because prospective students cannot afford the costs. This can make colleges leaders reluctant to build short-term certificate programs.

The report analyzes what various programs offer, who they serve, how their graduates fare in the workforce, what challenges institutions face in enrolling students, what challenges students face paying for these programs, and what proposals exist to extend financial aid to short-term programs.

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • The majority of institutions agree that their short-term programs benefit the local economy, adult learners, and other students.
  • Most institutions also believe that expanding short-term programs is of interest to industry representatives, educators, and local leaders.
  • Health care and transportation are the most popular short-term credentials.
  • Having businesses help design programs is one of the most significant drivers of short-term program development.
  • States and institutions would offer more short-term programs if the programs were eligible for Pell Grants and could serve more students.
  • Even if short-term programs became eligible for federal financial aid, however, most institutions stated they could not

Pell Grants are currently limited to programs composed of at least 600 clock hours or 16 credit hours and offered over at least 15 weeks of instruction, the report said.

Therefore, some lawmakers and policy organizations want to extend Pell Grants to short-term students as many in-demand labor market skills require less seat time than the minimums established in Title IV, the report said.


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