Alternative Credentials, Skills Badges Increasingly Common

(Photo: Ian L, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Ian L, Creative Commons)

A study recently released by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPEA), Penn State and Pearson has found that many colleges and universities across the United States are beginning to accept and use alternative credentialing programs.

According to the report, "Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials," millennial students are more likely to accept an educational reward system centered around badging and certificates as opposed to the traditional bachelor's degree.

"The degree will always be an important credential, but it won't always be the gold standard," said Fong. "As millennials enter the prime years of their career and move into positions of greater power, we'll see more alternative credentials for specific industries and possibly across the board. Higher education institutions, especially those in our survey, are showing that they are being progressive with workforce needs."

Researchers found that despite 94% of universities offering alternative credentials, just one in five offer badges, most commonly in the business industry. In addition, 74% of institutions were found to have consistent communication with the business community for things like internships, practicums, and job placements.

In all, 64% of participants agreed that their institution believes alternative credentials to be an important strategy for the future.

Peter Janzow, senior director of business development for Acclaim, Pearson, and one of the study authors, said the research highlights the changes that higher education is currently going through in terms of adapting to the current demographic, technological, and societal shifts. He went on to say that things like non-credit training courses, non-credit certificate programs, and micro-credentialing all allow learners to gain the skills necessary to find new job opportunities faster than traditional degree programs, at a lesser cost.

Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland began to offer digital badges as a result of an increasing number of casinos operating in the area. In an effort to increase the number of workers skilled in that field, the school began to offer non-credit courses. Upon the completion of a course, students earn a digital badge through Acclaim so they can show local casinos what specific skills they have.

"Digital badge earners indicated that since all job applications are online, the badge sets them apart from other applicants. Employers like that they can click on the badge icon and verify an applicant's skills. It's a win-win for both," said Charlene Templeton, assistant dean of continuing education at Anne Arundel Community College.

One of the first four-year online universities to offer digital badges through Acclaim offers NSA Focus Area digital badges to students who are enrolled in masters programs for information assurance and security, network defense, and digital forensic specializations. These badges are designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense.

The authors are expected to present their findings at the summit session "Trends in Alternative Credentialing: Benchmarks, Badges, and Noncredit Programming."

Founded in 1915, UPCEA is the association for leaders in professional, continuing, and online education, with the majority of leading public and private universities across the country counting themselves as members. The association provides its members with conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities, and a number of publications sent throughout the year.

Pearson holds its expertise in educational courseware and assessment, offering a variety of teaching and learning services powered by technology. The company works to help progress be made through an increased access to high-quality learning.

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