How Can Higher Education Institutions Become a Primary Resource for Lifelong Learners?


You learn something new every day. While you might not regularly be in a formal classroom like you sat in as a school-age child, adults learn new things in a variety of different settings: through graduate education, professional development workshops, and even conferences.

It goes without saying that the academic landscape has changed in recent years. The introduction of advanced technology has ushered in a new era of remote learning, and the boundaries for who has access to education are shifting for the better. There is no longer a singular definition of “formal education” or “classroom,” which opens up new doors for adults looking for learning opportunities. 

If learning is a lifelong pursuit, then academic institutions must prepare to support those who seek education and carefully navigate the obstacles and opportunities of this new landscape. 

Today’s colleges and universities are tasked with determining how higher ed can be the primary resource for lifelong learning and establishing themselves as a go-to resource for those seeking continuing education. And while figuring out the key to supporting the insatiable learner at any age or any phase of life might be easier said than done, it’s certainly a worthwhile task.

Many universities are developing lifelong learning institutes, dedicating departments or even entire colleges to continuing education. In fact, back in 2018, Northwestern University published a directory of lifelong learning institutes listing over 400 programs across the country. The number has continued growing since, with major universities such as Drexel adding professional development programs to their campus in recent years.

The availability of new technologies and professional programming has made it easier than ever for colleges and universities to cater to the needs of students. In consideration of the changing expectations of employers, many academic institutions have also begun adding alternative credentials as a way to offer continuing education to the lifelong learner.


Degrees Hold Their Value

Learning doesn’t have to stop after graduation. In fact, businesses are continuing to value degrees and reward more educated workers. Harvard Business Review reported that “a strong majority of HR leaders said that the value of educational credentials in hiring has either increased (48%) or held steady (29%)” in recent years.

To drive this point home, bachelor’s degrees, in particular, have retained their value. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published The College Payoff in late 2021, which asserted that “Bachelor’s degree holders earn 31 percent more than those with an Associate’s degree and 84 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.” 

The credentialing environment is changing because of this increased value in education, and because of this, graduate enrollment is up.


Graduate Enrollment is Increasing

Harvard Business Review also reported that the increase in graduate enrollments can partially be attributed to employers asking their employees to enroll in online programs. In fact “a majority (61%) of hiring leaders view credentials earned online as equal to or better than those completed in person.” A reported 29% of graduate-level students are fully online. The availability of remote learning, whether live or asynchronous, has clearly been enough to convince post-grads to return to school for additional coursework.

Most hiring leaders view online credentials as just as valid (if not moreso) than in-person credentials. The increase in graduate enrollments is also partially due to employers feeling more comfortable hiring from, participating in, and sending their employees to online credential programs in recent years. 

Students are also choosing to return on their own to attain the specific skills to succeed in their current careers, as well as the broad skills to adapt to the ever-changing workplace environment well into the future. The upward trend of graduate enrollments can be traced back to personal motivation just as much as professional requirements.

While a college degree might not be completely going away any time soon, “a growing number of colleges are working with vendors to use badges as an add-on to degrees, to help students display skills and accomplishments that transcripts fail to capture,” wrote Inside Higher Ed in their Lifelong Learning Through Alternative Credentials booklet.

The school environment has not yet lost its appeal for lifelong learners. Higher ed can count on the continued enrollment of these knowledge-hungry adult learners as they seek support for their continued success via additional credentials.

And alternative credentials might be the secret to maintaining that relationship. 


Extra Credentials Are Extra Valuable

Adding a robust roster of alternative credentials can help educators feel confident that they are providing their post-graduate students with the resources they need to thrive in their careers. Credentials backed by organizations like ACE, the American Council on Education, have a rapport with many major employers that further legitimizes alternative credentials.

ACE’s Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT®) connects institutions of higher education with workplace education programs and corporate training curricula to give academic credits to employees enrolled in colleges and university accredited courses.​​​ Fortune 500 companies like Google, Jiffy Lube, Walt Disney, and Jet Blue (as well as government agencies and labor unions like the FAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) have been making use of this credit evaluation service for over 40 years now. 

The ACE CREDIT®  review has considered over 35,000 different training programs and is the national leader in the evaluation of education and training obtained outside the classroom. They determine how well alternative credentials meet post-secondary educational expectations and industry competency. Then, they recommend an appropriate number of college credits to award those who complete each program.

ACE has over 2,000 schools listed in its College Network, which names colleges and universities that will consider your work for college credit and transfer it to your chosen school. Since FranklinCovey’s LeaderU certificates are backed by ACE, schools that accept ACE credits can allow students to obtain college credit for passing a LeaderU exam. 

Non-degree coursework such as the online courses offered by LeaderU transcends the limits of traditional graduate programs (e.g., strict admissions requirements and prohibitive costs) to increase accessibility for lifelong learners. The flexibility of alternative credentials can help postsecondary institutions fit the academic, career, and lifestyle needs of those wishing to continue their education after (or in lieu of!) graduating.

LeaderU’s world-renowned courses and certificate programs support life-long learners in honing their soft skills while fitting their schedules, budgets, and career necessities. Programs like Principle-Centered Leadership™ and Productivity Edge™, as well as courses based on the iconic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, are self-paced and offer instruction on timeless principles to support the noble pursuit of lifelong learning. These alternative credentials help higher education institutions become a primary resource for those seeking additional education to support their future personal and professional endeavors. 


To learn more about FranklinCovey’s LeaderU and how alternative credentials can help you better prepare your institution to support lifelong learning, visit

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