Explore Pros, Cons of Online Stackable Credentials

Posted: September 29th, 2017

Many working adults are overwhelmed by the time and financial commitments required to get an online degree. The fear of starting and not finishing a program, only to be saddled with debt, can deter potentially excellent students from taking online classes.

Enter the online stackable credential. Students may complete as few as three online university classes at either the undergraduate or graduate level and earn a certificate, badge or other type of microcredential.

Students can earn a second, more advanced certificate on top of the first one by completing a few more online courses. These stacked credentials allow students to quickly advance in their careers, adding a new line to their resumes.

After earning a certificate or two, students may find the needed confidence and motivation to continue progressing toward a full online degree. And their already completed courses make the finish line that much closer.

Often, certificate programs are designed so that students complete many of the same foundational classes as degree-seeking online students. They can then easily move forward toward a full degree if they wish, though the specific admissions requirements vary.

Stackable certificates are still relatively new within the traditional online university and have both pros and cons.

• Pros: Stackable credentials allow entry-level and mid-career employees to gain new skills as they seek to advance their careers through promotions, increased responsibilities and higher salaries. Taking a few online classes doesn't necessarily need to lead to a full degree, but that option exists, if desired.

Seasonal employees in industries such as oil, agriculture and tourism or active-duty military can also pursue a stackable credential when their work pace is calm and then pause when things get busy.

Some online certificates are specifically designed through partnerships between employers and colleges to provide students with the exact skills they need. Prospective applicants can review a list of common industry-recognized credentials.

• Cons: Certificates are not yet universally recognized by employers and may only result in a minimal pay increase or promotion. It's wise for prospective students to have a candid conversation with their employer prior to enrolling to determine how earning certificates may impact their career.

Another possible downside: Student may also face federal financial aid restrictions if they pursue a full online degree after starting with certificates. This depends on the number of credit hours and length of time they take, so prospective students should be sure to speak with the school's financial aid office to determine their options.

Some colleges also treat online certificate students differently than those seeking a full degree. Certificate students may not get advisers and may have shorter registration periods and restricted library privileges, among other limitations.

The takeaway: Stackable certificates can provide students with additional entry and exit opportunities to online college and job training. As with any online program, students should carefully weigh the risks and rewards of stackable online credentials, speak with their employer or career counselor and ask a lot of questions before deciding if that's the right choice for them.

Source: By Bradley Fuster