Industry Insights

Valuable insights from UPCEA's trusted corporate partners.

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Academia and Stackable Credentials

As the next generation enters secondary education and the workforce, traditional university experiences are no longer enough to prepare students for their professional lives. Even generations who have been in the workforce for years are making career transitions, meaning that they are trying to learn applicable skillsets and earn relevant credentials to bolster their portfolios.

One educational method that applies to all adult learners is earning industry-related credentials and certifications. Degrees seem to be listed as job requirements less and less, while certifications and other industry credentials continue to be valued by potential employers. According to a new white paper from ISACA and UPCEA, “Flexible, Stackable Certificates: The Future of Education,” new adult learners do not believe that traditional four-year programs are worth the high costs due to this lack of job skillset development. “A University of Chicago study found that 56% of Americans agree with the statement ‘A four-year college education is not worth the cost because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off.’”

In order to reach the unique needs of these students and workers, academic institutions are beginning to adapt by partnering with professional associations and offering stackable credentials. These credentials provide learners with the practical skills that they are seeking and prepare them to enter the workforce or a new career with applicable skillsets. The white paper outlines why stackable credentials are so attractive to adult learners: they provide the opportunity to gain competencies in multiple areas, which can be built toward credit or non-credit programs. In fact, studies conducted through several states have shown that from 32 to 43% of certificate earners are re-enrolling in college and stacking credentials.

According to the white paper, “Companies and universities have increasingly entered partnerships that provide invaluable benefits to both the employers and institutions. In a 2023 study of employers, UPCEA found that of the respondents from companies that partner with four-year colleges or universities, 33% said that employee development was the main reason, 28% said recruitment, and 12% cited access to quality staff/resources/programs.”

How to Implement Credentials in Your Curriculum

If your institution is looking to implement flexible and career-advancing educational paths for your students, offering credentials and certifications is the perfect place to start. Doing so is a time- and cost-efficient method of encouraging accessibility, microproductivity, and lifelong learning and skill development. Students are able to sharpen and validate their knowledge in specific areas in a shorter timeframe than traditional four-year degrees, and they can stack these credentials to create a path toward a larger certification, degree or career opportunity.

Here are a few first steps your institution can take toward implementing credentials in your curriculum:

  • Partner with an established provider of quality certificates and certifications. Some industry professional associations offer resources, credentials, training and community to progress individuals’ careers and transform their organizations.
  • Build your program pathways intentionally. Learners are looking to gain knowledge and continue down a pathway that will build upon what they already understand. According to the ISACA-UPCEA white paper, “These shorter-term credential pathways allow individuals the opportunity to progress from one credential type to the next within the same institution, continuously building upon the skills or knowledge topic.”
  • Create value and professional relationships with external companies. Companies and universities are increasingly working together in ways that are beneficial to both the employers and institutions. Corporate sponsorships, content development and early-stage research and recruitment are mutually beneficial collaborations that provide opportunities for all parties involved and create successful long-term relationships.

For more information about stackable credentials, implementing them into existing curricula, and developing accessible and flexible pathways for adult learners, download the new UPCEA and ISACA white paper here.


ISACA is a global community advancing individuals and organizations in their pursuit of digital trust. For over 50 years, ISACA has equipped individuals and enterprises with the knowledge, credentials, education, training and community to progress their careers, transform their organizations, and build a more trusted and ethical digital world.
This global professional association and learning organization leverages the expertise of its more than 170,000 members who work in digital trust fields. It has a presence in 188 countries, including 225 chapters worldwide. Through its foundation One In Tech, ISACA supports IT education and career pathways for under-resourced and underrepresented populations.

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