Alternative Credentials: What Are They and How Do They Apply to Postsecondary Education?


Those in the higher education space are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of credentials. Credentials are a sort of system put in place to measure the achievement of students in the postsecondary environment and can include everything from diplomas and degrees to professional certifications.

But what happens when the credentials institutions are offering aren’t the credentials their students need to succeed in the workplace?

Currently, there is a misalignment between the skills employers are seeking and the skills potential employees have. In fact, of nearly 20 thousand employers polled globally, 69% reported they are struggling to find workers with the right blend of technical and human skills – a 15-year high. This isn’t merely a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 75% of U.S. HR professionals reported a shortage of technical and human skills in job applicants.

With an increased demand for those human skills (also known as cognitive competencies) such as leadership, resilience, and problem-solving, comes to a decreased need for physical abilities, e.g., fine motor skills and mechanical expertise. Because employers are more likely than ever to hire based on skills, the responsibility falls on educators to offer learners the opportunity to hone industry-aligned skills and recognize achievements beyond degrees.

Learners need evidence of their in-demand skills and tools to showcase their professional readiness. Colleges and universities can help them do this through a system they already have in place: credentials. Let’s take a look at the different types of credentials out there and how higher education institutions can use them to strengthen and spotlight student skills. 


Types of Alternative Credentials

To reiterate, a credential is a recognition of academic or professional achievement.

Consider “credential” an umbrella term that encompasses many types of credentials:

  • Alternative credential - a non-degree credential aligned with industry needs
  • Digital credential - a portable digital asset representing an achievement, including rich metadata providing context and verification
  • Micro-credential - a credential obtained after completing a short program demonstrating the expertise of a specific subject
  • Stackable credential - a sequential type of credential, one of many on a career path
  • Co-branded credential - a credential offered collaboratively between an academic institution and a professional partner
  • Digital badge - another term for digital credential
  • Certificate - a recognition of completion of learning activities that do not constitute a full degree

Postsecondary institutions can leverage all of these alternative credentials, either together or independently, to provide students with supplemental content for their success in the classroom and the workplace.


How Postsecondary Institutions Can Use Digital Credentials

Offering digital credentials can help colleges and universities succeed in a time of evolution for the postsecondary space.

Technology’s impact on higher education is undeniable, but leveraging readily available digital platforms can make it easier for schools to transcend the limits of the classroom and facilitate lifelong learning. Academic institutions can offer alternative credentials to attract those looking to enhance certain skills or those seeking a non-degree program of study. 

FranklinCovey offers award-winning programs like The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity®, which institutions can implement to attract new, non-traditional students and satisfy the changing needs of their current students. After receiving a badge or certificate upon the completion of a course, students have evidence of career-readiness skills and subject proficiency that are attractive to recruiters and employers.

The flexibility of alternative credential programs can be appealing to lifelong learners and those seeking extra career preparation, as they can be – but do not have to be – associated with a degree or broader academic program. Programs like those offered by FranklinCovey’s LeaderU are virtual but come with the benefits of in-person programs like easy access to course instructors and the ability to be paired with live instruction. For lifelong learners, alternative credentials can be invaluable tools to help them gain and retain the soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

To learn more about how alternative credentials can help you promote greatness in your students, contact us


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