Skills Required: How Higher Ed Can Meet the Needs of Learners and Employers in a Skill-Based Economy

By Remie Verougstraete, Ashley Safranski, and Anne Peasley. Design by Levi Law and Daniel Botkin – Published 2021 in EmsiSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

This 43-page ebook stipulates how 62% of Americans “strongly prefer nondegree programs and skills training over degree programs.” Sensible advice for colleges and universities is provided throughout the ebook, including some practical advice outlined in chapter 4, titled “Skills AND Degrees: Adapting Degrees for a Skill-based Economy.” Here Emsi suggests that colleges “unbundle degrees into skill-based, stackable credentials,” or what they refer to as a “skillified degree plan.”

Employers are increasingly providing their own skills-based educational pathways and are not placing as much emphasis on their employees earning traditional degrees. Additionally, overall skepticism in relation to the ROI of higher education is increasing, as evidenced in current enrollment drops of first-time students currently in the 13% range. At the same time, there has been a “soaring enrollment of education providers (traditional and otherwise) that offer online, short-term credentials closely aligned to in-demand skills and industry needs,” Emsi claims.

Sensible advice for colleges and universities is provided throughout the ebook, including some practical advice outlined in chapter 4, titled “Skills AND Degrees: Adapting Degrees for a Skill-based Economy.” Here Emsi suggests that colleges “unbundle degrees into skill-based, stackable credentials,” or what they refer to as a “skillified degree plan.” For some students, a short-term stackable credential may be enough, while for other students it could be the beginning of a longer educational pathway. Overall, “colleges and universities that can offer students work-relevant degrees delivered via flexible, stackable pathways have the potential to not only help working (or out-of-work) adults in the short-term, but to continue offering on-ramps to higher leaning as individuals advance through their lives and careers,” Emsi writes. 

It needs to be noted, however, that stackable credentialing is not a new idea, and, in my opinion, calling them “skillified degree plans” is just another way of applying a creative term (called everything from micro credentials, certificates, digital badges, alternative, etc.) to what has been an ongoing development in higher education that has encouraged increased portability and transferability of credits (albeit rather unsuccessfully) in the form of stackable credentials since, at least in my estimation, around 2008-09. For another highly interesting and informative take on the growth and development of short-term credentials, see Part I and Part II of “Evolving Our Credentialing Ecosystem for the Future of Work,” published by The EvoLLLution.