Pioneering Study Reveals More Than 90 Percent of Colleges and Universities Embrace Alternative Credentials

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Millennials prefer badging and certificates to traditional degrees, according to researchers from UPCEA, Penn State and Pearson.

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A study released today by UPCEA (the University Professional and Continuing Education Association), Penn State and Pearson, at the UPCEA and the American Council on Education (ACE) Summit for Online Leadership in Washington, D.C., found widespread acceptance and use of alternative credentialing programs at American colleges and universities. Leading the way are millennial students, who the study found are more likely to favor an educational reward system that is built around badging and certificates, rather than the traditional bachelor’s degree.

The study, conducted by Jim Fong, director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Marketing Strategy; Kyle Peck, director of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning and professor of education and research fellow in the learning, design, and technology program at Penn State University; and Peter Janzow, senior director of business development for Acclaim, Pearson, explored the role that alternative credentials play in higher education to better serve the needs of learners worldwide.

“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.”

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Alternative credentials are offered by 94% of institutions.
  • One in five institutions offers badges.
  • Badges are most commonly offered in the business industry.
  • 71% of institutions has consistent engagement with the business community for internships, practicums, and job placement
  • 64% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that their institution sees alternative credentialing as an important strategy for its future.

Janzow said, “Our research highlights the ways that higher education is changing to adapt to today’s demographic, technological and other societal shifts. Non-credit training courses, non-credit certificate programs, and micro-credentialing all provide learners with less expensive and faster alternatives to job opportunities than traditional degree programs. What was previously thought of as cutting edge is now becoming mainstream and is transforming the paths that learners take to success.”

The team at Acclaim, Pearson’s digital badging platform, works with numerous institutions around the country that are transforming the lives of learners in their communities and making a positive impact on their local economies by offering opportunities to earn alternative credentials.

Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, faces challenges shared by colleges across the United States: to create clear connections between coursework and careers, provide students with a transparent and portable way of defining what the school's learning outcomes have prepared students to do in the workforce, and strengthen the credibility of continuing education programs. Harper launched its program by issuing badges through Acclaim across a variety of courses and skills, including CPR, network administration, pharmacy technician and Six Sigma Green Belt Training.

Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, turned to digital badges to help fill an urgent workforce need. With a growing number of casinos in the area, the community college is offering a number of non-credit courses that teach the skills needed to work in that field. When students complete the courses, such as Carnival Games, Casino Blackjack and Mini Baccarat, they earn a digital badge through Acclaim, indicating their preparation for work relevant to those games in the local casinos.

Charlene Templeton, assistant dean of continuing education said, “In 2014 Anne Arundel Community College formed a focus group to investigate offering digital badges as a way to validate core competencies and student achievements. After considerable research on open and closed systems, the Pearson Acclaim platform was selected as it met all of the college’s security requirements, provided protection to the earner and could be shared by the earner using social media. 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.”

Capella University in Minneapolis is one of the first four-year online universities to offer digital badges through Acclaim. 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, Capella offers NSA Focus Area digital badges to students completing its master’s in information assurance and security, network defense and digital forensic specializations.

The authors of the report will present their findings during a Summit session, “Trends in Alternative Credentialing: Benchmarks, Badges, and Noncredit Programming,” on Tuesday, June 28 at 11:15 a.m. The complete study is available at http://www.upcea.edu/rise-of-alt-creds, and the infographic can be found at http://www.pearsoned.com/rise-of-alternative-credentials.

About Pearson

Pearson is the world’s learning company, with expertise in educational courseware and assessment, and a range of teaching and learning services powered by technology. Our mission is to help people make progress through access to better learning. We believe that learning opens up opportunities, creating fulfilling careers and better lives. For more, visit http://www.Pearsoned.com.

About UPCEA

UPCEA is the association for leaders in professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, UPCEA membership includes most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. For more than 100 years, the association has served its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C.,UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between contemporary learners and public policy issues. Learn more at upcea.edu.

Media Contact: Hillary Stroud, hillary.stroud(at)pearson(dot)com, 202-407-6661

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Pearson
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