June 2016 | Professional, Continuing, & Online Education - UPCEA Skip to content

Leaders in Professional, Continuing and Online Education

A new study reveals that more than 90% of American colleges and universities offer alternative credential or badging programs for certification in industry-specific careers. The University Professional and Continuing Education Association says millennial survey respondents prefer certifications to bachelor’s degrees, and schools are responding with increased development of professional training silos.

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Millennial students seem to prefer badging and certificate programs to traditional bachelor’s degrees, according to a new study from University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Pennsylvania State University and Pearson that explored the role that alternative credentials play in higher education.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 28, 2016 – 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 https://upcea.edu/rise-of-alt-creds, and the infographic can be found at 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 www.Pearsoned.com.
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:
Scott Overland, scott.overland@pearson.com, 202-909-4528

Technically, being a nontraditional student isn’t all that nontraditional. The National Center for Education Statistics has delineated seven characteristics of nontraditional students, including delayed enrollment, full-time employment and supporting a dependent; NCES posits that 75 percent of all students have at least one of these characteristics. In 2011, 40 percent of American college students were considered nontraditional. Yet most four-year universities remain geared toward “traditional” students — the image of young, boozy, fresh-out-of-high-school kids unpacking Ikea furniture from their parents’ cars is still the one that dominates. According to Robert Hansen, chief executive of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, faculty tend to focus more on full-time, first-time students, despite statistical data suggesting that more students are actually nontraditional.

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The Department of Education has released proposed regulations on Borrower Defense to Repayment, a mechanism which would allow any student who believe they were defrauded at their school or the school violated state law, to file a claim with the Department of Education for discharging their loans. These proposed rules have come from the Department due to a failure earlier this year of Negotiated Rulemaking on the topic.

Focus on this rule has been brought about due to fallout from Corinthian Colleges, however it should be known that these regulations apply equally to both for-profit and not for profit institutions:

In response to the collapse of Corinthian Colleges (Corinthian) and the flood of borrower defense claims submitted by Corinthian students stemming from the school’s misconduct, the Secretary announced in June 2015 that the Department would develop new regulations to establish a more accessible and consistent borrower defense standard and clarify and streamline the borrower defense process to protect borrowers and improve the Department’s ability to hold schools accountable for actions and omissions that result in loan discharges.

Consistent with the Secretary’s commitment, we propose regulations that would specify the conditions and processes under which a borrower may assert a defense to repayment of a Direct Loan, also referred to as a “borrower defense,” based on a new Federal standard. The current standard allows borrowers to assert a borrower defense if a cause of action would have arisen under applicable state law. In contrast, the new Federal standard would allow a borrower to assert a borrower defense on the basis of a substantial misrepresentation, a breach of contract, or a favorable, nondefault contested judgment against the school for its act or omission relating to the making of the borrower’s Direct Loan or the provision of educational services for which the loan was provided. The new standard would apply to loans made after the effective date of the proposed regulations. The proposed regulations would establish a process for borrowers to assert a borrower defense that would be implemented both for claims that fall under the existing standard and for later claims that fall under the new, proposed standard. In addition, the proposed regulations would establish the conditions or events upon which an institution is or may be required to provide to the Department financial protection, such as a letter of credit, to help protect students, the Federal government, and taxpayers against potential institutional liabilities.

Comments on the proposed rules are being accepted through August 1st, 2016.  UPCEA encourages our member institutions to weigh in and make their voices heard. Please submit your comments here.

For more information on Borrower Defense to Repayment, click here.

To thrive in today’s fast-evolving job market, students need flexible ways to quickly develop and demonstrate new skills. Alternative credentialing helps solve this problem.

UPCEA and Pearson surveyed 190 institutions to determine the role alternative credentials play in higher education. Learn more about the key findings and download the complete report, Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials.

The major findings of this study include:

  • Alternative credentials are offered by 94% of institutions profiled.
  • One in five institutions offers digital badges.
  • Digital badges are most commonly offered in business-related domains.
  • Institutions with corporate engagement consistently valued alternative credentialing more than institutions that did not.
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that their unit sees alternative credentialing as an important strategy for its future. 

Click here to download the full report.