From ACE – Digital badges. Verified certificates. Alternative credentials.

You may have noticed a trend. More and more people are finding new ways—outside of traditional postsecondary degree programs—to show employers they possess the skills and knowledge needed for a constantly changing workplace.

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Understandably, many in the traditional higher education universe are skeptical about a lack of third-party validation of course content and quality.

I have lived and worked in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, two areas where alternative credentials have flourished and function effectively in the technology, design and entertainment fields. In my previous role as dean of UCLA Extension, one of the nation’s largest providers of non-degree educational programs, we offered nearly 150 professional certificate programs that did not carry degree-level academic credit but were widely recognized by employers as complementing more traditional academic programs.

Digital badges and verified certificates are just the latest development in non-degree credentialing outside the realm of traditional academic credit. Many professions have long had their own certifications or examinations that validate skills and knowledge and are recognized within those fields. These credentials have functioned alongside and complementary to traditional higher education degrees. Might the newer alternative credentials eventually replace degrees? I don’t think so, but higher education institutions should begin gauging the value of alternative credentials and where they fit into their academic missions.

With two-thirds of U.S. college or university students falling into the non-traditional category (meaning they aren’t first-time, first-year students arriving on campus straight from high school), non-degree certificate programs may play an increasing role in providing postsecondary education opportunities for more Americans.

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