How schools can streamline their alternative credentials programs

Colleges should work with local businesses to identify skills the communities need and develop curriculums that help students leave the calls campus and walk into well-paying jobs.
Chris Morgan
Chris Morgan
Chris Morgan is the Intrapreneur of Lifelong Learning at Jenzabar, where he develops solutions and business models that power institutions to expand their academic portfolios with offerings that promote professional development.

Alternative credentials have become a driving force in education, increasingly favored by non-traditional students who helped reverse a decade-plus long trend of declines that started in 2010 and fell sharply during the pandemic. Likewise, this trend has been embraced by corporations and employers that are increasingly focused on hiring people based on skills rather than academic degrees.

At a time when many students, especially older students, are questioning the ROI of a college education, alternative credentials are an easy way to align educational offerings with available jobs in the community. Although educational institutions have supported the interest in these programs, they could do a lot more to build alternative credential programs and connect students with potential employers.

Schools aren’t making the most of alternative credentials

A recent survey of UPCEA’s membership found that 94% of survey respondents said their institutions offer alternative credentials in some form—whether professional certificates, non-credit certificates, digital badges or other credentials—and that 66% agree or strongly agree that their institution’s leadership has made alternative credentials a critical element in their strategic plans.

Beneath the overall findings, however, are indications that alternative credential programs may not be getting sufficient support throughout the higher education establishment. One worry is that 51% of the survey respondents represent either medium (37%) or small (14%) schools, which often struggle with fewer resources for developing and administering nontraditional programs compared with large institutions.

And at many institutions, programs and the financial models supporting them appear to be decentralized, which can hinder efforts to streamline their effectiveness. Institutional leaders should be sure that alternative credential programs are a priority, which can ensure that the programs are given sufficient resources to improve.

Considering that 90% of respondents to UPCEA’s survey said that revenue generation is a major business goal of continuing education programs, institutions should look to implement systems and processes that support non-traditional programs. Working with businesses looking to hire skilled employees is an essential part of that.

More from UB: 3 ways higher ed can modernize its payment strategies

Conducting outreach so students, employers and institutions can all benefit

Partnering with local corporations is a proven approach to making non-degree programs successful. Colleges should work with local businesses to identify skills the communities need and develop curriculums that help students leave the calls campus and walk into well-paying jobs.

For example, a college could reach out to local automotive dealerships to identify what skills are required for automotive technicians. By partnering with those local businesses, that college could develop a curriculum specific for each auto manufacturer. The programs could be designed to provide entry level through advanced level technical education on all cars and light trucks. Students who completed even the most basic level of the program, could be reasonably a short of finding a good paying job within their communities.

Credential programs not only can help the auto dealerships find the skilled workers they need, but they can also be used by companies to upskill employees, opening the door for career advancement while helping companies retain valuable employees. It also provides a reoccurring revenue stream for the college.

To make it easier to find teachers who are knowledgeable about the latest developments in automotive technology, the college could work with the local manufacturers to identify employees who would make good adjunct professors.

Finally, for the program to be attractive to employers, schools need to focus on custom pricing and developing a frictionless registration process.

While the example above focuses on automotive repair, which is a critical and portable skill across the U.S., it could also be customized for any location. For example, in oil boom towns colleges could work with local drilling companies to identify the skills required for that industry.


Most Popular