- Embedding certifications into college degrees can pay off not only for students but also for higher education and industry. But the approach requires a firm commitment from institutions and businesses along with help from state and federal policies, according to a report from nonpartisan think tank New America.
- The report contends that as "innovation in higher education has focused on 'unbundling' degrees to make them shorter, faster, and more modularized, embedding certifications is a way of 'rebundling' degrees to take advantage of different types of credentials." Such degrees help make students employable — particularly in the case of adult learners with work experience.
- Also known as stackable or competency-based certifications, they are being offered more widely. But the report notes a lack of data on how or where, and indicates progress to expand these programs are often "piecemeal" across higher ed.
The report describes a well-trained Coast Guard veteran experienced in the tech field who struggled to find a suitable job because he lacked a bachelor's degree. Through an IT competency-based degree program at Broward College, he was able to gain enough credits to finish an associate degree in one year and will receive his bachelor's degree in IT next summer. It is one of 40 bachelor's and associate degrees at the Florida college that include embedded industry certifications.
"The whole notion of the stackable credential is going to become real" because there will no longer be a "four-year grad rate," Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, told Education Dive in June. WGU is a nonprofit university offering competency-based degrees to adult students.
The Lumina Foundation last year released a report designed to answer key questions about these relatively new approaches to credentials in higher education. It found that stackable credentials are used in a wide array of programs, often driven by employers' needs. But Lumina found that data about their outcomes is rare.
The report listed three challenges for stackable credentials: the high financial cost for students; inconsistency in how they are accepted by employers; and the need for ongoing communication and assessment by institutions and industry.
However, the report also highlighted several benefits of stackable credentials, including the opportunity for students to gain relevant industry and higher education certifications and the ability to improve and modernize college curriculum. Businesses also get employees who are trained to meet their needs.
Even the soft skills that employers say they need are being offered and measured through credential programs.