While our partners increasingly inquire about stackable credentials, few have actually moved to take advantage of this emerging enrollment opportunity. And for the institutions that have ventured into the space, standing up successful, revenue-generating stackable credentials has proven challenging.
Stackable credentials are short-format programs that can be completed separately from, or in conjunction with, another credential program and combined (or “stacked”) towards a degree program. Stackable credentials give students an opportunity to hone specialized skills in a flexible format.
Read below for three ways institutions have successfully incorporated stackable credentials into their master’s programs—and provided the enrollment opportunities today’s graduate and adult learners seek.
1. Offer one foundational certificate, with credits that could be applied to a master’s degree in the future.
Example: Regulatory Science Graduate Certificate at the University of Georgia.
This certificate provides foundational regulatory science knowledge to students who wish to enter the field without completing a full regulatory science master’s program first. The 14-credit certificate at the University of Georgia is completely online and takes only a year to complete, making it an easily accessible and relatively quick program for busy students. The four courses required for the certificate are the same four required courses for the University’s 38- to 39-credit Master of Regulatory Science program, and all 14 certificate credits can be applied to the full master’s program later.
This option allows students to determine their true interest level before investing significant time and money into a full degree. And, if a student decides they want to pursue the full master’s, they start the program 14 credits ahead and can complete the degree sooner. This method is also more cost efficient for the institution, as using existing program resources like instructors lowers the costs to launch a new certificate.
2. Offer multiple, specialized certificates that can be combined to form a full graduate degree.
Example: Graduate Business Certificates at Baldwin Wallace University can be stacked to form a full MBA.
Baldwin Wallace University (BWU) offers eight graduate business certificates in areas such as strategic marketing, sports management, and business administration. While these certificates can be completed on their own, BWU also allows students to combine two to three of these certificates to form a full, specialized MBA in one of the following four areas: Business Analytics, Health Care Management, Human Resources, and Sports Management. While BWU provides recommendations for how to stack the certificates for each specialization, students can work with faculty to create their own stacking design if desired. Certificate credit requirements range from 12 to 15, and modalities vary. Once stacked with the other certificates in a specialization and combined with one capstone course, students can receive a full MBA. This type of flexible programming allows students to achieve a personalized and specialized degree at their own pace.
3. Offer a certificate that can be combined with one or multiple master’s programs
Example: Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management at Johns Hopkins University.
The Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management at Johns Hopkins University is a six-course, online certificate that takes between nine months and one year to complete. Students who complete this certificate have the option of combining it with one of four master’s programs. By completing the master’s program and the certificate program together, students can reduce the number of courses, and time, needed to complete a specialized degree. For example, students who choose to complete the certificate in combination with the M.A. in Communication only have to complete 14 courses (compared to 16 courses if completed separately), as two of the certificate elective courses also count towards the master’s program when completed together.
Stackable credentials speak to the needs of today’s adult learner, with opportunities for personalization and flexible pathways to education. Embedding stackable certificates into existing degree structures as outlined above can help serve a wider audience and expand your enrollment pipeline in the long term.
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