11 Popular Micro-Credential Programs and Why You Should Care

The micro-credential industry is growing to accommodate the post-pandemic changes in employment and education. Should your institution cash in on the estimated $20 billion market and cater to non-traditional student demands?

By: Ryan Schwartz
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One of the most impactful post-pandemic events has been the Great Resignation—millions of people leaving their jobs and changing career paths. Of course, spending years learning new skills or trades to accommodate such spontaneous changes was not feasible or viable for many individuals. Enter micro-credential programs, which have stepped into the gap to provide qualifications and workforce up-skilling. 

Defined as “a short, competency-based recognition that allows an educator to demonstrate mastery in a particular area,” micro-credentials show that a person has a capability or a skill without undergoing formal long-form education. The massive influx of people post-pandemic will balloon the micro-credentialing industry from a $9.9 billion market in 2019 to an estimated $20 billion by 2025.

Micro-credentialing caters to two primary needs for both students and educators: cost-effectiveness and flexibility. Companies such as those listed below provide flexible, self-paced programs for students. For administrators, these programs allow professionals to stay up-to-date on emerging technologies and higher education trends while cost-effectively providing staff development opportunities.

Growth Across Industry

Until recently, balancing a career and continued education required extensive time management and residency near a brick-and-mortar institution. Now, all one needs is access to the internet and a willingness to learn. Due to demand, prices for these certifications are competitive, with the average certification course from Udacity less than $1200—significant savings from a traditional degree path.

Recognizing the viability of such competency-based courses, higher ed institutions have developed their own micro-credential programs. More than 60% of colleges and universities in the United States offer or are considering such programs, and 42% of those institutions plan to expand their offerings.

“In addition to high-quality programming for learning and growth, we’re proud of our efforts to prioritize credential transparency,” said Noah Geisel, micro-credentials program manager at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Our credentials strive to communicate what it is they are credentialing, even articulating measurable earning criteria and how they are assessed. We believe this adds value to our credentials and will serve our learners as a currency to help them access their successful futures.” 

CU Boulder is attempting to expand its programs; an inbox on the website allows users to propose new programs for consideration. If successful, the proposed micro-credential earns a place among dozens of existing school-sponsored credential badges, such as “Arts Administration” presented by the Boulder College of Music and “Machine Learning” from the College of Engineering. 

Robert Bajor, founder of Micro-credential Multiverse, shares the same optimism for higher ed integrating micro-credentialing programs soon, after years of hesitation. 

“There is a growing body of evidence that institution-led micro-credential programs are maturing from the pilot phase and starting to creep into our everyday educational lexicon,” Bajor said. “In my view and experience, institutions take more time than most people are comfortable with, but it’s mainly due to their commitment to high quality, valuable education experiences – they want to get it right.” 

A recent survey by HolonIQ indicates Bajor’s hypothesis is correct. Institutions that described their adoption of micro-credentials as “mature”  increased from 7% in 2021 to 13% in 2023. With such large financial and resource investments should schools worry about softening demand? 

“No, there will be changes, though I do not see softening demand as being part of the evolution,” said Geisel. “micro-credentials are scratching a very big itch that isn’t going away, and I believe it’s more likely that they become ubiquitous than experience declining interest.” 

Perceived Value 

With all this momentum and growth powering up an already massive industry, many have questioned whether these online programs compare to the value received from established higher education institutions. Geisel, among others, believes there is a growing trend of normalization. 

“In just a few years, we’ve gone from most people having never heard of micro-credentials to most people being within a degree or two of separation from someone who’s earned one,” said Geisel.” And while exactly what these things are is not yet standardized, a function of normalizing has been consumer confidence in program quality.”  

The usage of credentials to bridge the gap between a student’s major and the requirements of a prestigious job could be a fruitful investment for both a college and its students through increased employment upon graduation and higher starting salaries for college alumni. 

“Micro-credentials present a rare opportunity to cover all three of these strategic goals: they are demonstrably more flexible, affordable, and broadly accessible than traditional degree-bearing programs,” said Bajor. “That said, the fourth and possibly more important category is this idea of continuous improvement and innovation. Micro-credentials provide universities and institutions of higher education with a rare opportunity to check all four boxes.”

Concerns and Cautions

There has been concern that micro-credentials increase cheating, due to the nature of the short, individual-led programs. However, students often view micro-credentials as no different than college courses. Asa Haskins, a student at Babson College, believes the rise of online testing and asynchronous work has nullified such concerns.

“Micro-credentialing courses, like Coursera, are very similar in course security compared to many courses I have taken in college,” said Haskins. “Many of my courses use the same software present in micro-credentials to ensure the integrity of tests and exams. ” 

Asa, like many recent college students, has witnessed the rise of micro-credentials firsthand.

“Following covid, the college has begun offering numerous two-credit courses on various topics, and these courses are often just as interesting and beneficial as their four-credit counterparts,” said Asa. “For example, one course I took, Microsoft Excel Training, helped me bridge the gap between my core courses and employment opportunities.”

Longevity and Viability

But, are micro-credentials going to replace the immersion and one-of-a-kind experience of a traditional higher education that you can find on a college campus? 

Sean Gallagher, the founder and executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, views these programs more as a supplement rather than a whole replacement.

“It’s more of a post-baccalaureate phenomenon, a little bit like a master’s degree, but a shorter version,” said Gallagher. 

Bajor agreed that micro-credentials will never replace traditional higher education. 

“Think of higher education as a direct highway to many different kinds of opportunities that learners value—the catch is that it’s a long road and a very expensive toll; however, there is a different way, maybe we’ll call it local roads,” said Bajor. “Those local roads cost a fraction of what it would cost to get on the highway and pay those tolls. Maybe you might choose to get on the highway for some stretch that makes sense for you and finish up on local roads later on.” 

It is worth the effort to see if offering these programs for current students and post-grads is right for higher-ed institutions. The convenience and reach of these programs exhibit potential for students, and institutions can arm their students with the skills to reach for high-skill jobs or prestigious graduate programs.

11 Popular Micro-Credential Platforms

edX MicroMasters 

edX MicroMasters is a platform that offers master’s-level courses online. The courses are designed by top universities and are recognized by many higher education institutions. Learners can earn a MicroMasters credential upon completion of the program, which can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.

Coursera Specializations  

Coursera Specializations provide learners with a comprehensive understanding of a specific topic. The platform partners with leading universities and industry experts to provide high-quality courses, which many higher-ed institutions recognize. Learners can earn a certificate of completion for each course and a specialization certificate upon program completion.

Coursera MasterTrack Certificates 

Coursera MasterTrack Certificates provide a flexible and affordable way to earn a professional credential. The programs are taught by instructors from leading universities and are recognized by many higher education institutions. Learners can earn a certificate of completion for each course and a MasterTrack Certificate upon program completion.

Udacity Nanodegrees  

Udacity Nanodegrees are online programs that provide learners with practical, industry-specific skills. The courses are taught by experts in their field and are designed to apply to real-world scenarios. Learners can earn a Nanodegree upon completion of the program, which can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.

Microsoft Professional Program 

The Microsoft Professional Program is a platform that provides learners with in-demand skills in areas such as data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. The program is recognized by many higher education institutions and is designed to prepare learners for a career in technology.

IBM Skills Academy 

The IBM Skills Academy is a platform that provides learners with expertise in emerging technologies such as blockchain, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. The program is accredited and recognized by many higher education institutions and is designed to prepare learners for a career in technology.

Salesforce Trailhead 

Salesforce Trailhead is an online learning platform that provides learners with a wide range of courses in Salesforce skills. The courses are interactive and the platform is easy to use. The micro-credentials earned from Trailhead are recognized by many higher education institutions and can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.

Pluralsight Skills 

Pluralsight Skills is a platform that provides learners with a wide range of courses in software development, IT operations, and creative fields. The platform partners with leading experts in each field to provide high-quality courses that are recognized by many higher education institutions. Learners can earn a certificate of completion for each course and a Skill IQ upon completion of the program.

Google Career Certificates  

Google Career Certificates provide learners with job-ready skills in high-growth fields such as IT support, data analytics, and project management. The certificates are recognized by many higher education institutions and are designed to prepare learners for a career in technology.

Udemy Micro Courses 

Udemy Micro Courses are short online courses that provide learners with new skills or knowledge in a specific area. The courses are taught by industry experts and can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.

Strada Education SkillsMatch 

Strada Education SkillsMatch is a platform that provides learners with personalized recommendations for micro-credentials based on their career goals and interests. The platform partners with top micro-credential providers to offer a wide range of courses and certificates. The micro-credentials are recognized by many higher education institutions and can be used for professional development or to supplement a traditional degree.



Ryan Schwartz

Ryan Schwartz

Reporter


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