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In today’s competitive workforce, many adults are seeking additional options in pursuing a degree, or furthering their education after previously earning a bachelor’s degree. While going back to school can help prepare individuals for a career change, or an increase in earnings potential, this often poses a challenge to those balancing current careers and families. 

Enter micro-credentials, which act as an accelerated, nontraditional learning path for students to gain skill sets in a specific technical area.

To dive deeper into what micro-credentials are and who they serve best, we spoke with Tom Keller, Director of Admissions, at Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh.

At Katz, although micro-credential programs are available to anyone, the majority of those pursuing a micro-credential certificate are adult learners. 

“Over 90% of the students who entered our micro-credential programs are adult learners with an average age in the early 30s,” Keller said. “Twenty-eight percent of the new students who enrolled at Katz in 2020 were non-degree students.” 

Benefits of micro-credential programs

Designed for working professionals, micro-credential programs are a popular option for adult learners who have been out of school for a number of reasons. They are cost-effective, offer flexible courses (evenings, weekends, or a hybrid format), and can be completed in as little as two semesters. There are typically fewer admission requirements, as the GMAT/GRE exams and letters of recommendation are not required. 

“Micro-credentials can provide in-demand business skills in a quick and affordable format and are a stackable credential should the student decide to continue on for a graduate degree.” 

Employers also benefit, as the in-demand business skills employees achieve through micro-credential programs can be immediately applied in their jobs. 

“These programs provide essential knowledge, skills, and abilities in a functional area of business such as accounting or finance,” Keller said. “Micro-credentials offer immediate value to current employers and demonstrate mastery of in-demand business skills to potential future employers.”

Micro-credential programs expansion plan

Katz Graduate School of Business began offering five micro-credential programs in the 2018-19 academic year, adding a sixth program the following academic year. Their six micro-credential programs in business range from accounting and corporate finance to data programming and digital innovation. 

“Given the demand (non-degree enrollment has tripled since the introduction of micro-credentials), we plan to offer additional micro-credentials in other areas of business,” Keller said. 

An alternative to the MBA

If you’re a working adult, but don’t want to commit to pursuing an MBA, enrolling in a micro-credential program provides a great opportunity to add technical expertise to your skill set.

“Micro-credentials are an attractive option for someone who isn’t ready to make the full commitment,” said Keller. “It’s a way to test the waters, and if they decide the MBA isn’t what they need, they’re able to get some new skills and a credential in business.”

According to Keller, a significant percentage of the micro-credential students at Katz eventually continue on to earn their MBA or another master’s level degree in business. 

The wave of the future?

In our rapidly changing economy, micro-credentials are quickly expanding to other areas of study, including computer science, technology, design, and more, as they provide a solution for individuals to pivot careers and add to their skills in an agile way. 

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