The Fast-Moving World of Alternative Credentials and Pathways

Inside Higher Ed report explores the exploding array of certificates, apprenticeships and microcredentials that colleges and companies are creating to improve the intersection between education and work, over a lifetime.

September 19, 2018

Boot camps. MicroMasters. Apprenticeships. Badges. Last-mile training. Competency-based learning.

Buzzwords or game changers? Threats to traditional higher education or opportunities for colleges and universities to truly deliver on their promise to serve learners over their lifetimes?

A new report from Inside Higher Ed tries to make sense of a dizzying landscape. “On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and Work” is an up-to-the-minute look at how colleges, companies and other players are reconsidering how to measure and recognize knowledge and skills.

The special report, Inside Higher Ed's second, assesses the fast-changing landscape of postsecondary education and training credentials, based on interviews with scores of higher education leaders, corporate officials, policy makers and other experts.

Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed's news editor, explores a wide range of examples of new kinds of credentials at all stages of the postsecondary pipeline: apprenticeships and other noncollege preparation for entry-level jobs; new pathways designed to lead to four-year degrees; badges and other add-ons to the traditional bachelor's degree, and shorter, narrower credentials that could disrupt graduate education.

The report also examines the funding sources for the new credentials and the risk that the push for them widens rather than closes racial and gender gaps in educational attainment.

Some of the initiatives explored in the report will be familiar to readers of "Inside Digital Learning" -- for instance, California's new online community college, Georgia Institute of Technology's vision of the future of learning there and Coursera's work with numerous universities to create lower-cost master's degrees and shorter-form credentials that might stack to a master's.

But the report peeks into many corners of the expansive postsecondary education and training landscape to identify examples of entirely new approaches to documenting and credentialing learning wherever it occurs. Among them:

  • Google's IT certificate, which is designed to help it develop entry-level technical support workers not only for itself, but for more than 20 corporate partners. Google is working with community colleges and institutions like Duke University to deliver the credential.
  • Broward College's embedded certifications in more than 40 programs, which were developed in conjunction with (and subsidized by) the State of Florida.
  • The partnership between New England College and StraighterLine for an associate degree in professional studies.

The report is available for purchase here; on that page you may also download a free preview of it.

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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