Research support by Jake Nelson, Josie Furbershaw, Jamie Reid, Chrysanthi Violaris, and Sam Pope
Non-university providers are increasingly offering low-cost, short-format alternatives to university degrees and certificates. And like their higher ed counterparts, non-university providers have embraced the golden triangle of speed, flexibility, and affordability when designing programs for adult learners.
Courses from Google or Amazon, for instance, can cost as little as $100 (Amazon) or $49 per month (Google). Those same courses can be completed in as little as 90 minutes (Amazon) or completely self-directed over the course of three to six months (Google) and still deliver explicit tangible outcomes. This attention to design has proved extremely attractive: IBM alone conferred over one million badges from 2014-2018, while universities conferred just over 300,000 for-credit graduate certificates during this same time.
Alternative providers to higher education aren’t going away, but that doesn’t mean administrators need to fear attrition to these programs. Instead, use these alternatives to bolster enrollment, increase program flexibility, and reduce student costs in your own offerings.
Consider recognizing certain programs for university credit
Recognizing credit from professional alternatives offered by Google, Amazon, IBM, and others turns a potential competitor into a collaborator. As of last July, over 250,000 students have completed Google’s IT Support certificate, just one of their five career certificate offerings. If students applying to your program already have professional credentials, recognize that experience where appropriate and give them course credit.
Treating professional credentials like transfer or prior learning credits gives students a faster path to completion and makes your program more affordable: things highly appealing to adult learners in our research. Some institutions are already doing this, such as Northeastern University with Google’s IT Certificates. Certificate holders accepted into Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies can earn up to 12 credits toward their degree, saving more than $6,000 in tuition cost. Model credit recognition infrastructure after existing prior learning policies and consider examples from other schools, such as University of Memphis’ robust transfer credit strategy.
Create a roadmap for recognition
How to create a repeatable process for recognizing alternative credentials
Choose one provider
- Amazon Web Services
Create a model
Model after established process for credit from outside your school
Analyze credit transfer
Determine credit equivalency of alternative credential
Incorporate into existing processes
Implement credit recognition into application process
Promote on applicable webpages
Repeat as needed
Repeat process for additional credentials as student voice interest
Purely competing with these providers sets you and your university peers up for continued struggle as they’re offering in-demand education in fast, flexible, affordable formats. Increasingly, non-university providers are incorporating wraparound services that were once a unique pillar of higher education’s value proposition, like advising, mentorship, and career coaching. Instead of investing in direct competition, recognize credit for these educational experiences and attract students for continued education and the remaining revenue potential, with the ideal being to earn a repeat student.
Design programs to grow adult learner enrollments
Join former graduate school dean, Dr. Will Lamb, to hear about the program design strategies that most impact enrollment growth.