Alternative Credentialing

New paths, new opportunities

To thrive in today’s fast-evolving job market, students need flexible ways to quickly develop and demonstrate new skills. Alternative credentialing helps solve this problem.

UPCEA and Pearson surveyed 190 institutions to determine the role alternative credentials play in higher education. Learn more about the key findings and download the complete report, Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials.

What is Alternative Credentialing?

Recognition of knowledge gained through non-degree coursework

What forms can it take?

Digital Badges

Digital Badges

Digital badges are online representations of skills learned by students, typically with visual iconography.



Certificates are credentials typically issued by educational institutions to students who have completed significant programs of study that do not culminate in a degree.



Micro-credentials are granular, digitally presented certifications offering evidence that an individual has mastered a specific skill or area of knowledge, with links to detailed criteria, endorsements, or demonstrations of their learning.

Types of Alternative Credentials

Non-traditional offerings are most likely to lead to alternative credentials

non-credit training
Most popular:


non-credit training
Least popular:



Digital Badge Offerings

Just 1 in 5 institutions (18%) offer digital badges

Most likely to badge:
Baccalaureate Colleges
Baccalaureate colleges


Public Institutions
Public institutions


Digital badges are most commonly offered in association with non-credit training courses or programs.
But of those that award credentials, 36% use the institution's brand or system of credentialing.

Industry Segments

Among institutions that offer certificates only






Below 10%: Energy/Mining/Utilities (9%), Military (7%), Agriculture (4%)

Among institutions that offer digital badges only






No institution reported badging in courses or programs related to Agriculture, Energy/Mining/Utilities, Government, or Leisure/Hospitality.

No more than 2.8% of institutions reported offering micro-credentials in any single industry segment

Competency-based Alternative Credentials

45% offer at least some competency-based alternative credentialing
offer alternative credentialing, but never base it on previous competency
don't offer it at all

Workforce and Community Partnerships

64% see alternative credentialing as an important, future strategy and revenue-generating opportunity

But, only 34% have alternative credentialing strategic plans even though most institutions do actively engage with the business community

Many institutions that see opportunities for alternative credentialing may wish to plan more actively for success.

Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials is based on 405 survey responses received from UPCEA institutional representatives and Pearson clients from February 18 to March 28, 2016, with Pearson clients weighted and filtered to more closely match UPCEA's profile. 300 records fit the criteria and were used for analysis.

Copyright © 2016 by UPCEA and Pearson.

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