They can alleviate labor shortages. Current research suggests that some 4 million jobs may open to workers without degrees over the next five years as employers broaden their candidate pools to fill middle-skill positions. Incremental credentialing, as a process, can help institutions of higher education formalize learning into qualifications that are recognizable by employers. In turn, this helps adult learners communicate their qualifications to gain employment.
They save learners time and effort. Incremental credentials can reduce learners’ need to repeat learning and demonstrate knowledge and skills they have already obtained. Incremental credentialing also may enable learners to transfer what they know to the workplace and across various training entities and higher education institutions. Through incremental credentialing, institutions may retroactively offer learners certificates, credentials, and degrees. All these factors may speed individuals’ entry into employment or enhance upward mobility.
They empower learners with options and information. Incremental credentials can increase the ability of learners to specialize as they go and tailor their educational pathways to their career goals. Through incremental credentials, learners may have more entry points into programs, certifications, and jobs. Recent research suggests that learners want higher education institutions to offer stackable, entry-level professional certificates and industry and microcredentials within both two- and four-year academic programs.
They help close equity gaps. Incremental credentialing is a strategy that holds promise for narrowing equity gaps because such credentials allow people without a college degree to get recognition of their knowledge and skills and, ideally, gain greater access to family-sustaining wages. Research suggests that non-degree credential attainment – especially industry-recognized credentials in high-demand STEM and business fields – may improve transitions to the labor market and enrollment and persistence in college.
They increase demand for higher education. As incremental credentials empower adult learners to continue their education, they also offer institutions a strategy for boosting enrollment and retention rates, thus enhancing institutions’ financial sustainability. Incremental credentialing can help institutions of higher education formalize learning into transferable and usable qualifications for adult learners, who can use these qualifications to gain employment and continue their education. Leaders from colleges and universities nationwide – including Colorado State University – Global Campus and others – recognize that incremental credentials help make degrees more relevant for learners.
They provide a framework for policymakers to transform higher education. Incremental credentialing, when implemented, supports the structural transformation of the U.S. legacy degree system that no longer adequately serves the needs of learners and employers. There are multiple entry points for these parties, especially governor’s offices and state systems of higher education, working closely with credential providers.