Why Higher Education Needs to Embrace Microcredentials

By: Steven Fischer May 11, 2023

Why Higher Education Needs to Embrace Microcredentials

What are Microcredentials in Higher Education?

As gamers revel in the satisfaction of leveling up, so do students who embark on the journey of obtaining microcredentials. In the online multiplayer role-playing game once popular in the early 2000s level 1 gnome mage starts off weak and ineffectual. But then they take on missions and level up skills and gather abilities until they’re strong enough to defeat the raid boss at level 60.

This type of gamification mechanic isn’t just used in video games – they’re now being applied to how students are exploring alternative educational pathways. Microcredentials are becoming increasingly popular as more students opt for shorter, focused learning experiences that can be earned on their own terms.

These markers of achievement show that a student has put in the work and earned points of experience, making them attractive potential hires for employers. By actively pursuing upskilling opportunities, students are crafting their own personalized pathway towards career advancement and dedicated lifelong learning

This generation of online students are reshaping how they’re pursuing higher education and as they opt for alternative credential options over traditional degrees, college and universities are recognizing this trend and are offering microcredentials to appeal to a wider audience.

Who Benefits from Non-Degree Study through Microcredentialing

Microcredentials and non-degree study in higher education have exploded in recent years, drawing increasing numbers of students to a short-term certificate or license programs. Today, where there is a large pool of jobs and a focus on flexibility and cost, it’s no surprise that students are looking to quickly join the labor market with as little gatekeeping as possible.

When it comes to enrollment growth, non-degree study offers a huge opportunity for not only students but employers and higher ed institutions as well. Here’s a closer look into three reasons why microcredentials benefit all parties involved:

1. Provides students with in-demand skills and knowledge quickly and efficiently

For many online students, the main challenge of gaining new skills is achieving a quick return on investment. They want to know how it will improve their employability and the fastest way to get there. When asked why they opted for certificate study instead of degree study in our 2023 Online College Students survey, approximately 60% of online students cited time while nearly 55% cited cost.

Nowadays, savvy professionals are all about building skills that they actually need to excel at their job and climb the career ladder. It’s no wonder that this pragmatic approach is on the rise.

The OCS survey also noted that 20% of undergraduate students and 31% of graduate students were enrolled or considered enrolling in certificate/license study. In 2022, 19 percent of undergraduate respondents and 29% of graduate respondents said the same, so there was a slight uptick in just one year.

2. Identifies qualified candidates with the right skill set for their organization

For companies, microcredentials show that candidates have put in the work to build skills that are relevant to an open role or career path. They are proof that candidates are not just winging it but have put in the hard work to develop relevant skills for the open role or career path.

As more diligent workers embrace continuous learning, microcredentials give employers a clear picture of the specific skills and knowledge a candidate has gained. This enables hiring managers to make better-informed decisions while recruiting talent that can fulfill business needs with expertise.

3. Reaches new audiences and expand their educational offerings

As the demand for alternative credentials like microcredentials grows, so does the number of institutions offering them. Colleges and universities are starting to see the benefits of providing a range of options for students, including stackable credentials, digital badges, and micro-certificates.  

By repurposing existing courses and resources, institutions can offer targeted, relevant messages that meet the evolving needs of students and employers. This type of innovation allows institutions to stay competitive by offering more flexible learning options that meet the needs of today’s learners.

Making Microcredentials More Attractive With Stackable Certificates

As players specialize, they gain access to unique skills and boost their stats, allowing them to achieve greater levels of success in the game.

Similarly, stackable certificates move students closer to earning their degree. For instance, online students can start with one skill, such as a social media marketing certificate. Then, they can add more abilities, such as certificates in content creation and data analytics. They can stack them up until they have enough for a full specialization or degree.

In last year’s report, 88% of non-degree respondents indicated that their certificate was stackable towards a degree. Among degree students, 61% found the prospect of stackable certificates to be very attractive.

Earning a degree is now much less overwhelming and more achievable for students going at their own pace. With each certificate they earn, they level up their skills and get closer to their goal.

Why Microcredentials are Gaining Prominence in Higher Education?

One thing is becoming abundantly clear, the value of microcredentials has been on the rise. The largest enrollment growth was in certificate enrollment, with a 5.5% increase in undergraduate certificate enrollment and a 4.6% growth in graduate certificate enrollment. By contrast, the only other enrollment growth in the past year was associate degrees, but only at 0.3%.

Considering that in OCS 2023, 97 percent of respondents indicated a career-related reason for enrolling in higher education, and half of the respondents indicated that the cost of tuition and fees was their leading enrollment decision factor, the reasoning for enrolling in non-degree study leans right into student needs. They can bring their quickly-earned credential to their employer (or search for a new job) and make a career move and do so in a cost-efficient manner.

Microcredentials: A Game-Changer for Enrollment Growth

Microcredentials aren’t just a trend – they’re an effective way to help learners achieve their goals while staying relevant in a competitive job market. They allow students to gain job-ready skills in a shorter timeframe and at a lower cost than traditional degree programs. Plus, students can earn credentials on their own terms, fitting learning around their busy schedules.

Institutions offering microcredentials are positioning themselves as leaders in modern education. By meeting students where they are and offering diverse, targeted learning experiences, they differentiate themselves from competitors and attract new audiences of learners. Get in touch with EDDY’s market researchers to help you level up with EDDY’s custom solutions for enrollment growth.