Stacking Certificates and Degrees

The lessons we’ve learned so far.

In the minds of most Americans, going to college means pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a major in a traditional academic field like psychology, history or mathematics. But in the last 10 to 15 years, many public community colleges and regional universities have greatly expanded their applied and technical programs, particularly in fields like health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing. These technical programs in colleges commonly offer certificates—shorter-term credentials that require anywhere from a few months to two years of study in a specific occupational area—as well as applied associate degrees and sometimes applied bachelor’s degrees.

This stackable credential movement has encouraged colleges to be more intentional in how they build their applied programs, too. Stackable credential pathways allow individuals the opportunity to progress from a shorter-term certificate into other certificates and degrees with overlapping skill—as well as course—requirements. For example, an individual can receive a basic welding certificate with only a few months of coursework and, after completing that program, can re-enroll at any time and apply that same course credit toward longer-term credentials in, say, industrial welding or even management.

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