The appeal of microcredentials for learners is often that they are focused, flexible, and fast. In other words, microcredentials are often defined by quick completion time, concentration on a specific skill, and a self-paced learning schedule. As interest and funding increase, more postsecondary institutions are making investments to offer microcredential options. But with so many types of microcredentials in the marketplace, it’s helpful for postsecondary leaders to understand the variety of options available. 

Three members of the College Innovation Network (CIN) — Marshall University, Rio Salado College, and Northern Virginia Community College — recently shared how their microcredential programs work with the network during a Partnership in Practice call. The group represents a wide range of institutions serving different kinds of learners, providing a wide sample of the various approaches higher education leaders can take to offer microcredentials. 

1. Marshall University

Type of Institution: Public Research Institution

Type of Microcredentials: Online and in-person non-credit stackable credentials for unenrolled learners

At Marshall University, located in Huntington, West Virginia, leaders are emphasizing two unique aspects of microcredentials: portability and flexibility.

The university’s microcredential program is part of the Marshall Skills Exchange, a strategic investment to build an ecosystem that includes multiple ways for learners to engage in skills development. In the initial phase of its new microcredentials program, Marshall is offering non-credential online and in-person programs. This means that learners can enroll in a microcredential course without fully enrolling in the university. At the completion of the course, learners earn a digital badge that is portable, learner-owned, and applicable to other programs that accept such credentials. Additionally, learners in the online program  are able to complete it on their own time, which is ideal for working adults. With the launch of the Marshall Skills Exchange, an alternative use case emerged: training and development courses for staff, faculty, and students of the university offered through through the platform — a more convenient process for users and facilitators. 

2. Rio Salado College

Type of Institution: Online Public Community College

Type of Microcredentials: Online and non-credit stackable credentials for adult students

Rio Salado College, headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, is tapping into the power of partnerships for its microcredential program. 

The public community college partners with national and local employers to offer online and non-credit microcredentials. Students can enroll in stackable microcredential pathway programs to build discrete skills required in the workforce, or follow guided educational pathways to complete a certificate and degree. The college is currently experimenting with the integration of 21st Century Skills into curriculum and co-curriculum. In an effort to engage local employers interested in supporting the upskilling and reskilling of their workforce, Rio Salado partners with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, the Adult Education program, Maricopa Corporate College, and Guild. 

3. Northern Virginia Community College

Type of Institution: Public Community College

Type of Microcredentials: In-person and online stackable credentials that lead to an associate degree for enrolled students

At Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), in the suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C., students can earn stackable certificates for an associate degree and get financial support during their journey.

NOVA’s certificates are called Career Study Certificates (CSC) and are available for all students, whether part-time or full-time, in person, or online. The CSCs allow students the flexibility to fit these high-demand programs into their schedules while supporting a modern learn-work-learn cycle to advance their careers. 

All CSCs are stackable, meaning the credentials stack directly into a full Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. The implementation of these CSCs has led to a significant increase in internships for students in several critical technology programs. For instance, in the past two years, students in the Data Center Operations program have taken part in 51 internships, and 72% of them have accepted full-time positions.

To further assist students who are pursuing careers in high-demand fields, NOVA is able to offer students access to a tuition assistance program referred to as G3 - Get Skilled, Get a Job, Get Ahead. G3 puts an affordable college education and a new career within the reach of all students. This last-dollar scholarship program, which is available to all community colleges in the Commonwealth, allows Virginians with low or modest income to pursue educational programs in high-demand fields tuition-free and on a timeline that works for them.

As microcredentials mature in the postsecondary landscape, leaders need to make informed decisions for their institutions and learners. Through CIN, administrators gain access to a network of education leaders invested in the ongoing process of exploring new solutions. By connecting and collaborating, they can implement new ideas, like microcredentials, that enhance the learning experience for all students.

Interested in joining CIN? Learn more here