- In the U.S., more than 738,000 unique credentials are offered, according to a new report from Credential Engine, a nonprofit that tracks the marketplace. Its count includes traditional degrees as well as badges, certificates, boot camps and other short-term credential types.
- Credential Engine has doubled its count from 2018, when it estimated there were about 350,000 unique credentials. The larger number this year is primarily due to the researchers' inclusion of certificates and badges.
- Postsecondary institutions account for about 370,000 unique credentials, while nonacademic organizations offer 315,000. MOOC providers and secondary schools account for the rest.
The credential marketplace is vast and growing, yet not much is known about their impact on social mobility or whether they're effective in closing skills gaps.
"What we still don't know is whether we have enough — or too many — credentials for a country of our size or if we have the right mix of programs to meet employer demand," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in the foreword of the report.
The report also notes there's a dearth of research on nondegree credentials in particular. Although some early evidence suggests short-term programs can boost earnings and help students land a job, others note their outcomes can "vary tremendously."
That lack of information can harm students. For instance, they may pursue and complete credentials only to find out they aren't recognized by local employers.
"The number of credentials that might exist within a particular field is just daunting," said Scott Cheney, executive director of Credential Engine, in an interview with Education Dive.
Traditional colleges and universities are also embedding short-term programs within their offerings. For example, some have launched shared credentials that local employers recognize or allowed students to roll badges issued by employers into credit for degree programs. And others have teamed with tech giants and other types of companies to craft custom curricula.
"A lot of employers are actively working with education providers to create the custom add-ons to existing credentials to make sure that they meet their specific needs at any particular time," Cheney said.
That's why Credential Engine and others are hoping to bring more transparency to the credential marketplace. An accurate estimate of the available credentials marks an essential first step, but providers need to be able to communicate their value in a standardized way.
To that end, Credential Engine has partnered with six other education companies to help colleges and other providers translate data about their programs in a common language and publish them in a national, cloud-based registry.