The Value of a Degree vs. Micro-credentials in Higher Education


value of a degree

In the dynamic landscape of education and career development, individuals are faced with a multitude of options to enhance their skills and qualifications.

Traditionally, a degree has been the gold standard for academic achievement and career advancement. However, in recent years micro-credentials have emerged as a flexible and targeted alternative.

So, if you are looking to complete your degree, what is the value of a degree versus micro-credentials in higher education?

The Value of a Degree

A degree has long been perceived as a ticket to success by opening doors to a wide range of career opportunities. The comprehensive nature of degree programs provides students with a deep understanding of their chosen field along with a broad foundation in critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills. This depth of knowledge is an asset, according to Roger Dusing, PhD, Senior Consultant at OMNI Human Resource Solutions.

“When you consider an applicant with a degree in business administration from an accredited university, you immediately have a sense of what that entails,” Dusing says in an online article. “While there are some variations, you can be confident that in addition to the general education requirements, this applicant has likely completed courses in general business, accounting, management, marketing, human resources and perhaps international business.” Outside of a well-rounded education, benefits of a degree include the ability to establish a professional network, the opportunity for hands-on practice and the luxury of learning from established faculty.

Professional Network

While the selling point of a degree may be the quality of education that is provided, the ability to create a lasting network is a close second. From professors to classmates and even alumni, a college or university can provide a well-established network for its student body.

In a blog for Northeastern University, Shayna Joubert writes, “In today’s job market, building and maintaining a professional network is critical to success. Certain aspects of getting a degree, from interning to volunteering, are designed to help you meet people who can help design your future.

Hands-On Practice

In addition to classroom learning, a liberal arts degree is designed to provide hands-on learning. At Elmhurst University, these resources include the Gretsch Recording Studio, a virtual dissection table and E-celerator space for entrepreneurs, among others. Differing from an online education, hands-on learning at a university can often lead to field work including internships, apprenticeships or student-teaching. In this regard, the value of a degree cannot be beat.

Established Faculty

Another value of a degree is the quality of instructors the student has access to. Seasoned educators offer a wealth of experience, depth of knowledge and a network of professional connections, while their expertise enhances the learning environment by providing students with mentorship and guidance. Established faculty members often bring real-world insights to the classroom, contributing to a robust educational experience and better preparing students for future endeavors.

The Rise of Micro-credentials

While degrees have undeniable merits, the educational landscape has evolved to accommodate more flexible and targeted learning options.

Micro-credentials, also known as digital badges or certificates, offer a more focused and efficient approach to skill acquisition. These short-term, specialized programs are designed to address specific industry needs and provide practical skills for immediate application.

  • Flexibility and Accountability – Micro-credentials are well-suited for individuals looking to upskill or reskill without committing to a full degree program. The flexibility of micro-credential courses allows learners to choose specific topics of interest and complete them at their own pace, often through online platforms. This accessibility is particularly beneficial for working professionals seeking to enhance their skills while managing other commitments.
  • Relevance to Industry Needs – In rapidly evolving industries, the shelf life of knowledge and skills is shrinking. Micro-credentials address this challenge by offering targeted courses that are aligned with current industry demands. Learners can acquire the latest skills and knowledge without undergoing a lengthy degree program, ensuring that their expertise remains relevant in the fast-paced job market.
  • Cost and Time Efficiency – Micro-credentials are often more cost-effective and time-efficient compared to traditional degrees. The shorter duration of these programs means that learners can quickly acquire specific skills and enter the workforce sooner. This is especially appealing for individuals who want to minimize student loan debt and start earning sooner.

Making an Informed Choice

Ultimately, the decision between pursuing a degree or opting for micro-credentials depends on individual goals, circumstances and preferences. While micro-credentials can give you a quick boost in your skill set, a degree may be the better option to set you up for a career. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s up to the university to call out that distinction.

“To make a degree more valuable, higher education must spell out the skills that students learn on campus and help them to see where those skills are needed in the workforce,” says the May, 2023 article. Elmhurst University’s Weigand Center of Professional Excellence (WCPE) was established with that in mind. The WCPE can provide help in finding internships, building a resume or even mentoring or job shadowing. These services make a degree (and the networking that comes with it) invaluable compared to micro-credentials.

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Posted February 13, 2024

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