Jan 2017

Will Alternative Credentials Replace College Degrees?

The question of whether alternative credentials—in the form of everything from badges to nanodegrees and from micromasters to certificates—will displace degrees from colleges and universities is heating up.

Many have speculated that 2017 may be the year that employers begin to move en masse away from filtering applicants based largely on where they went to school and to an approach where they evaluate the actual competencies prospective employees possess to determine if there is a match. In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose profiles some companies that have already moved to such an approach.

Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, has poured cold water on the prospect of alternative credentials replacing degrees anytime soon, but added that if they did, it could help tackle higher education’s cost challenges.

The challenge for all innovation in this area is that the “Job” that human resource professionals are hiring the college degree to do is efficiently disqualify a large portion of applicants so they can focus on a smaller number of high potential candidates. At this point, no new solution competes with the efficiency of glancing at a resume to see where someone went to college. As a result, many emerging alternative credentials have served as supplements to and differentiators on top of the degree, but not full replacements.

At the LearnLaunch Institute’s 2017 Across Boundaries conference, I am moderating a panel with Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass; Liz Simon, vice president of legal and external affairs at General Assembly; and Stephanie Krauss, campaign director at Connecting Credentials to unpack the question further. 

Against this backdrop, new research has emerged from LinkedIn Learning’s Insider Survey with a more optimistic take. The survey gathered its information from a panel of 30 to 45 notable learning and development experts, including corporate learning executives, leaders from educational nonprofits, and industry analysts focused on enterprise training and development.


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