Continuing Your Education: Pros and Cons of Micro-Credentials
Many people choose to leave college early, whether that be to take care of a family matter, to pursue a career, or because of any other reason that took them away from being a full-time student. More and more of these people, however, are choosing to continue where they left off to finish their degree. Oftentimes, these people are referred to as “non-traditional” students, as they do not fit the typical profile of a live-in, full-time undergraduate student. This might be a bit of a misnomer, as the number of non-traditional students is growing rapidly.
But with prohibitively expensive tuition fees and other bureaucratic hoops to jump through, many adult, non-traditional students struggle to find a higher education solution that works for them in today’s fast-paced world. This is where micro-credentials come in.
What are Micro-Credentials?
Essentially, micro-credentials are shorter, hyper-focused digital certifications or credentials that demonstrate a person’s skills or competency in a specific area of study. Micro-credentials, as the name suggests, are generally smaller in scope and duration than more traditional degree programs. A non-traditional student might pursue micro-credentials as an initial step in pivoting their career or as a means of recognizing or showcasing the abilities they have within their area of expertise.
Like other higher education opportunities, students can earn micro-credentials through several different methods, including online instruction, group workshops, seminars, or even job-related training applications. And like other certification programs, micro-credentials usually require an individual to complete a set of requirements or assessments (exams, projects, assignments, etc.) to prove their proficiency.
How Do I Earn a Micro-Credential?
Micro-credentials can be awarded by higher-education institutions, professional organizations, or private companies, and they can be combined or paired with other certifications or degrees to provide a more comprehensive set of credentials for an individual. Oftentimes, micro-credentials are utilized as a means of professional development or career advancement, as it provides a concrete way to demonstrate or hone someone’s skills.
Do Employers Recognize Micro-Credentials?
Thanks to the boom of technological advancements amid the digital information age, micro-credentials are gaining popularity among non-traditional students and professionals alike because they are accessible, flexible, and often self-paced. Micro-credentials can also be a useful remedy to help bridge a skills gap or to provide professionals with additional skills to make themselves more marketable to employers in increasingly competitive industries and marketplaces.
“Micro-credentials are increasingly recognized by employers,” said Janet Anderson, executive director of Expansive Naz at Nazareth College. “A 2022 U.S. employer survey conducted by the University Professional, Continuing, and Online Education Association, known as UPCEA, revealed that almost 70% of mid- and upper level managers are very or extremely familiar with non-degree credentials, and the same percentage of respondents agree or strongly agree that micro-credentials have helped fill existing skills gaps, also improving the quality of their workforce.”
Advantages of Micro-Credentials
Micro-credentials offer numerous advantages for non-traditional students and other professionals seeking to enhance their skill sets and advance their careers. Micro credentials offer students the following benefits:
Affordability and flexibility:
First and foremost, micro-credentials provide a flexible, affordable solution in lieu of more traditional higher education degree programs. Because micro-credentials are shorter in duration, they can be more focused and allow students to learn hyper specific skills that are deeply relevant to their careers or job duties. This makes micro-credentials an ideal solution for individuals who may not have the time or resources available to commit to a full-time degree program or working adults who still need to balance personal and professional commitments.
Another major benefit is that micro-credentials are largely competency-based, meaning that their focus assesses a student’s core capabilities rather than the student’s ability to complete coursework on time. This focus can provide students with more hands-on learning opportunities in a practical environment that is directly related to their work. It also allows individuals to showcase their expertise in a given field to existing or potential employers.
Because micro-credentials are increasingly being recognized by employers and industry leaders as legitimate credentials, those with micro-credentials can have a better chance at impressing hiring committees or securing a promotion within their current organization.
Not only that, but micro-credentials can also be ‘stacked’ or combined to build a more comprehensive skill set within a particular discipline. This is especially useful for nontraditional students or working professionals who may not have a traditional academic background but have otherwise acquired valuable skills from their work experiences throughout their careers.
Overall, micro-credentials present an affordable, flexible, and applicable means of advancing one’s skill set and unlocking additional career advancement opportunities. As demand continues to increase for upskilling the modern labor force, micro-credentials can be a valuable asset for nontraditional students and working professionals looking to maintain a competitive edge in their respective fields of expertise.
Disadvantages of Micro-Credentials
While micro-credentials offer many benefits and advantages, they are not well-suited for every individual’s specific situation. Here are some common disadvantages of micro-credential programs:
Lack of universal recognition:
One of the primary disadvantages of micro-credentials is that they are not yet as readily accepted as the more traditional college degree. While some employers may be familiar with micro-credentials and value them as highly as they would a traditional two- or four-year degree, many organizations are not. In some instances, this hesitation can limit job opportunities for individuals relying heavily on micro-credentials as evidence of their skills and knowledge of a particular subject.
Varied quality standards:
Another disadvantage of micro-credentials is that the quality of micro-credentialing programs can vary substantially. With so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know which programs are trustworthy or reputable and can provide students with a high-quality education. Some micro-credentialing programs may not offer substantive assessments, or they might offer courses that are taught by less-than-qualified instructors. These programs do not have the same accreditation standards as degrees from reputable universities.“Universities are evaluated for the quality of their degree offerings,” said Nazareth’s Anderson. “It is important to seek your micro-credential from a reputable higher education institution.”
Even though micro-credential programs are often touted as more affordable solutions to more traditional degree programs, costs can still accumulate over time. Because multiple micro-credentials may be necessary in order to satisfy the requirements of an employer or a specific position within an organization, students may need to pay fees for each micro-credential program in which they enroll. Be careful not to let them pile up!
“If you are looking at micro-credentials, it is also important to understand the financial aid opportunities at each higher education institution, and make sure you find out if you have access to employer benefit dollars for continuing your education,” said Anderson.
Before investing the time and money. it’s important to carefully consider the quality of a micro-credentials program before enrolling as well as to ensure that your current or potential employer will recognize micro-credentials as legitimate.
Solutions for nontraditional students
To summarize, micro-credentials allow non-traditional students and working professionals the opportunity to enroll in flexible and practical programs that might enhance their skills and potentially even advance their careers. Since micro-credentialing programs are typically more flexible and affordable than traditional degree programs, individuals seeking to bolster their skillset should consider exploring the many micro-credential options available to them.For individuals interested in pursuing micro-credentials, Abound: Finish College can be an invaluable resource to help you locate a high-quality program while navigating the realm of alternative education opportunities.