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At a Glance

The college degree is considered the best ticket to a rewarding career and the middle class. But many say the traditional degree pathway is failing to meet the nation’s postsecondary education and training needs. As a result, a growing number of colleges are partnering with employers -- or brokers who make those connections -- and noncollege education providers to offer alternative credential pathways. This is the focus of Inside Higher Ed’s new special report, On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and Work.

Based on interviews with more than 75 experts, this report seeks to explore whether colleges and nonaccredited education providers, backed by labor-market data and in partnership with employers, can create viable forms of alternative credentials that will help more Americans get a first job, promotion or make a career change.

Download the free preview and Executive Summary.


Topics Include

  • The chronology of alternative credentials and pathways, beginning with noncollege options for high school graduates and stretching to upstart substitutes to traditional graduate degrees. This includes college optional, college à la carte, degree add-ons and alternative graduate credentials.
  • Tough questions about credential inflation and credentialization, class and race, higher education and the job market.
  • Discussion of emerging policy ideas that could open up funding and encourage alternative credentials, including an update on the bipartisan push for short-term Pell, EQUIP and related moves by the Trump administration to deregulate and change accreditation.
  • A look at how competency-based education is becoming the underlying structure for the creation of alternative credentials, through efforts to map required skills and competencies for jobs.
  • Discussion of the information gap (versus the skills gap) and how states, colleges and alternative employers are increasingly using data from Emsi, Burning Glass and other sources to design credentials that have labor market value -- can these efforts work at large scale?


Table of Contents

Executive Summary

     What Are Alternative Credentials and Pathways?

The Landscape

     Infographic: Credentials, Debt and the Job Market

     Analysis: Credentialism, Class and Race

College Optional: Alternative Credentials and Entry-Level Jobs

     Snapshot: Apprenticeships in Hospitality

     Snapshot: Google’s IT Certificate

     Infographic: How Do Credentials Differ?

     Analysis: The Information Gap and Job-Market Data

College à la Carte

     Snapshot: California’s New Online Community College

     Snapshot: eVersity’s Professional Path Certificates

     Analysis: Competencies, the Infrastructure for Alternative Credentials

Add-Ons to the Degree

     Snapshot: Broward College’s Embedded Certifications

     Snapshot: General Assembly’s Hiring Assessments

     Analysis: Short-Term Pell Grants, Deregulation and Alternative Credentials

Alternative Graduate Credentials

     Snapshot: Georgia Tech and Lifelong Learning




     Additional Reading

     About the Author



This report was made possible in part by the financial support of Entangled Group.


About the Author: Paul Fain is the news editor at Inside Higher Ed, where he has worked since 2011. He writes about low-income students, college completion and emerging models of higher education. From 2004 to 2011, Fain was a senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he wrote about college leaders, finance and governance. Fain has contributed chapters to two edited volumes on innovation in higher education, published by the Harvard University Press and the Stanford University Press. Before joining The Chronicle, Fain reported for C-Ville Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va. He has also written for The New York Times, Philadelphia City Paper and Washington City Paper.

Number of Pages: 78 (12.9MB PDF)

Date Released: September 19, 2018

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