The increased value of postsecondary credentials is among the major changes in higher education, as a response to the coronavirus. Americans are reevaluating their education options in light of the disruption COVID-19 is causing. They are looking for education that can provide immediate results. They want a meaningful education that will upgrade their skills and prepare them for future work in the post-pandemic workplace. For many American workers that means earning postsecondary credentials.
Generally during a recession or other downward economic cycle, Americans enroll in higher education at increased rates. During this crisis, however, Americans are reevaluating their options. About 28 million Americans have cancelled their education plans according to surveys Strada Education Network takes each week. Because of this crisis, people are looking for education in the form of postsecondary credentials that will give them immediate return on their investment of time and money. Dave Clayton, Strada senior vice president for consumer insights says that they expect people to choose a wide range of education pursuits, that will include alternatives to degrees. “What we do know so far, based on this survey and our historic surveys, is that Americans want to see direct career benefits from their education."
Postsecondary credentials that include certificates and certifications can provide the direct career benefit students seek. More students have been choosing alternatives to degrees in recent years. Short-term credentials make up 24 percent of all postsecondary credentials awarded in the US. In 2014-15 US public higher education institutions awarded more than 600,000 short-term credentials; this represents a 63 percent increase from 2004-05. “Certificates have become so popular that they are now the second most common higher education credential in the United States, signaling that students and employers are recognizing the value of short-term credentials at an increasing rate," says Darlene Miller, Executive Director of the National Council for Workforce Education.
Students and employers recognize that post-secondary credentials have many short-and long-term benefits. Employers know that tuition assistance programs have great value in recruiting and retaining skilled employees and employees that are eager to continue growing in their career. Providing tuition assistance for postsecondary credentials is a strategic action that complements employer tuition assistance for degrees. Short-term certificates provide fast training for employees and immediate return on investment for employers. Almost all jobs and careers interface with technology in some way. Workers need life-long learning, in terms of postsecondary certificates, certifications and licenses, to learn specific skills and work with technology advances. Employers who financially support their employees in pursuit of these skills will have a prepared workforce that is willing to engage in continual training.
Postsecondary credentials also promote equity and diversity in the American workforce. “Students enrolling in and earning certificates and associate’s degrees are much more diverse than those pursuing bachelor’s degrees,” states a report from Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Certificate programs enroll higher proportions of low-income students, students of color and older adults. These programs cost less than degree programs and often have flexible schedules that nontraditional students need to balance work, family and school.
Support for these employee and student populations are more important than ever. Strada surveys show that 60 percent of Americans have lost jobs or income since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, “people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to feel they need additional education if laid off."
Employers that cover the many types of post-secondary credentials in their tuition assistance programs are definitely at an advantage over those who don’t. They are among a growing number of businesses that see the value of postsecondary certificates, certifications and licenses in recruiting and retaining valuable employees. Among Edcor’s clients, 55-65 percent include certificates and certifications in their tuition assistance programs. As technology creates a demand for additional training these employers can quickly build their talent pipeline and develop career paths that benefit both business and employees.