You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

College students working at cafe while completing coursework

College students are interested in skills-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships and microcredentials.

Kemal Yildirim/E+/Getty Images

As the American public increasingly wonders if higher education is worth it, a new report from ed-tech provider Instructure shows students around the world are interested in lifelong learning to supplement their degrees.

The State of Higher Education report found, across 4,880 student survey respondents, 61 percent would pursue a skills-based learning opportunity to advance their careers or learn new skills.

The change has partly to do with a student’s desire to have something to show for attending college, even if they don’t complete, explains Ryan Lufkin, vice president of strategy at Instructure.

“Prior to COVID, students knew they were going to go [to college] get a degree and get a job,” Lufkin explains. “And now I think between the learning disruption from COVID and the student debt crisis, students are really looking for ‘How do I make sure I have something tangible to show an employer when I when I leave college or university, whether that’s a two-year degree, a four-year degree or even a credential?’”


Instructure’s survey was delivered in July 2023, with support from Hanover Research. The results compile responses from 6,100 students and educators from across the globe, 39 percent of them from North America and 80 percent students.

Students represented two-year and four-year institutions, as well as public, private and national institutions. Among respondents, 28 percent were the first in their family to attend college or university.

What’s the sitch: Skills-based learning, as defined by the report, is an opportunity designed to teach students specific skills that align with industry needs, while being tailored to individual students’ needs, and it attracts students for multiple reasons.

Certificates and other credentials can be alternate on-ramps for adult learners into higher education or an opportunity for a career pivot. The average tenure of jobs has shrunk from three to five years, making upskilling and reskilling a growing need among workers.

Cost, however, is an influential factor in a student’s choice, with 52 percent of all respondents and 61 percent of North American respondents weighing the price of a credential in their decision.

Wild West of credentials: As skills-based learning opportunities become more popular among learners, the number of options and providers offering credentials makes the market “kind of a Wild West,” Lufkin says.

Instructure and the 1EdTech Consortium are looking to define types of credentials to help students and employers identify the value of the various programs, distinguishing between programs with academic rigor, co-curricular certification or “just-for-fun” badges, Lufkin says.

“It’s all about essentially building trust with those employers in the value of those badges,” Lufkin says. “We’re really focused on bringing this conversation together, bringing order to the chaos in a way that it’s not just about Instructure, but it’s about that interoperable standards that everybody can align to.”

What works: Of the skills-based learning opportunities that interest students, certificates (58 percent) and apprenticeships (42 percent) rank highest for North American learners, according to Instructure’s survey.

  • Hands on. Students believe the best skills-based learning opportunities have practical application of knowledge and skills (75 percent). Higher education leaders should create industry-specific programs to allow for experiential learning.
  • Personalized. Receiving feedback on their progress and performance is also a critical component in the experience, according to 67 percent of respondents. A majority of respondents (66 percent) believes skills-based learning should be flexible, allowing them to balance other responsibilities.
  • Affordable. Students say economic issues, including recession and inflation, impact their overall enrollment factors (80 percent) as well as student loan forgiveness policies (79 percent), so administrators should consider the cost of programs and how they can reach learners of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Gaps to fill: Despite a general interest in skills-based learning programs, higher education practitioners can help bridge interest and opportunities by prioritizing the following.

  • Availability of present programs. Almost 20 percent of students are unsure of what skills-based learning opportunities are available to them at their institution. However, 56 percent of surveyed educators say institutions offer certificates, 38 percent offer apprenticeships, 18 percent offer trade schools and 17 percent offer microcredentials and badges.
  • Public perception of microcredentials. While a majority of students and educators hold a positive impression of certificates (74 percent) and apprenticeships (74 percent), only 46 percent of survey respondents feel positively about microcredentials and badges. 
  • Curriculum reform. Professors have an opportunity to embed experiential learning or other industry-specific training into existing curricula to meet student needs for career development.  

If your student success program has a unique feature or twist, we’d like to know about it. Click here to submit.

Next Story

Found In

More from Life After College