Understanding Where Microcredentials Fit Into the US Education and Training Ecosystem - Converge Consulting

Understanding Where Microcredentials Fit Into the US Education and Training Ecosystem

There are almost 700,000 different types of post-secondary credentials available in the U.S. according to a new report. The report, Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials, was produced by Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to understand – and explain – the range of credentials available to students in need. Among their major areas of focus are microcredentials – a topic that many are talking about, but few fully understand.

Credential Engine’s first step is to quantify the credentials market in order to understand where and how – and to what scope – microcredentials fit into our education and training ecosystem. In doing so we start to understand the magnitude of educational activities that are being made available to the workforce – and see just what proportion of these activities are being undertaken by our colleges and universities. Among the highlights of the report are:

  • Nine out of 10 credentials (93%) are post-secondary. There are 738,428 different credentials available in the US. About 46,000 of these are various types of secondary school diplomas, leaving more than 692,000 distinct postsecondary credentials available in the US (and beyond with online learning).
  • Only half (53%) of post-secondary credentials are offered by universities: There are 370,000 different and unique credit-bearing degrees and certificates offered by U.S. colleges and universities. More than 200,000 come from Title IV schools and about 45,000 come from schools that do not qualify for Title IV funds.
  • A litany of business and organizations provide the other half: A wide range of training companies, government agencies, quasi-public organizations, and MOOC providers offer more than 322,000 different and unique credentials including professional licenses (11k), registered apprenticeships (22k), and industry certifications (7k). These long-standing credentials account for only 13% of these credentials. What makes up the balance? More than 1,000 different coding bootcamps and 191,000 different digital badges (more on that below).
  • MOOCs only provide 1 percent of credentials: Although MOOCs (offered through Udacity, edX, Coursera, etc.) have been a huge source of attention in recent years, there are only about 7,000 unique credentials. These include 629 different types of microcredentials, 6,000 course completion certificates, and 28 degrees from foreign universities.
  • MOOCs have no consistency: The fact that Credential Engine counted more than 7,000 different MOOCS with dozens of different credential types (nanodegree, micro-master, specialization, certificate, etc.) has led to confusion in regard to what all of these credentials mean to employers in need for employees with documented, verifiable skills. A subsequent Research Brief will look at what we know about the diversity of these offerings.
  • Badges Really Are the Rage: At last count, there were more than 190,000 digital badges available that are designed to signify verifiable skills or knowledge in a specific subject at a wide range of vendors – including Badgr, Credly, Acclaim. Thousands of organizations worldwide are using badges and they are specifically designed to be attached to digital resumes and vitae and contain metadata that describes the skills mastered. 

Other recent reports indicate that while employers are demanding that new — and ongoing — employees demonstrate mastery of essential skills and competencies (as opposed to being satisfied with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree), there is also a significant lack of clarity about what all of these various alternative credentials are, and what an employer can expect of an employee who has completed such a credential.

It’s clear that in order for alternative credentials to be meaningful to employers, a great deal more needs to be done to standardize or clarify what each credential “means”. Efforts to promote general adherence to a uniform naming convention (badge, certificate, micro-master, specialization, etc.) and a minimum level of effort (perhaps measured by estimated number of hours to complete) would be a great step forward. This would allow for the flexibility that working professionals need, while helping employers understand what they are getting in a prospective employee who lists such credentials on a resume or vitae. 

Scott Jeffe
Scott Jeffe
December 12, 2019