Andres Garcia stands in front of the Educational Cultural Center in San Diego, Calif. with his two certificates.
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Today’s Credentials

In today’s economy, more than 60 percent of adults in the United States need a college degree or credential of value beyond a high school diploma.

The country needs a comprehensive learning system that ensures opportunities for individuals to earn meaningful credentials that are widely available and distributed fairly. Without significant changes to better tailor higher learning for today’s students, American society, the national economy, and individual citizens will experience profound consequences. A coherent approach to designing academic and training programs would lead to credentials that affordably position people for informed citizenship and success in a global economy. This emerging system should be easy to understand, clear about costs and outcomes, and prepare people for better work and lives and even more learning. Degrees and other credentials remain the currency for verifying what people know and that they can apply their knowledge and skills.

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Today's credential marketplace gives ready learners more options for success than previous generations had.

There are more than just two options for success after high school. Today’s Learners are more frequently entering the workforce with a certificate and continuing to learn while they earn—gaining new skills for that next career bump. This “ratcheting” approach lets workers gain a footing in their chosen careers without being saddled with debt before their first paycheck.

Today's Credentials
Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's Degrees

Programs leading to bachelor’s degrees have come under increasing scrutiny. Nonetheless, the economic data are clear that four-year degrees position most people who earn them for better lives—even as colleges and universities are challenged to ensure a college education remains relevant. The economic returns justify what students, families, and the public spend. A bachelor’s degree is a four-year undergraduate degree offered by colleges and universities. They require the completion of the equivalent of 120 semester credit hours, or about 40 college courses, and provide students with education in specific fields of study.

Bachelor’s degrees often include a general education component, elective courses, and courses in students’ majors and completion of capstone projects or papers. Bachelor’s degrees are awarded in various fields and disciplines, including business, engineering, English, the humanities, sciences and social sciences, education, and the health professions.

Today's Credentials
Associate Degrees

Associate Degrees

Two-year degrees are good options for individuals who want to join the workforce more quickly or who are looking for a more affordable way to start their education. Community colleges and technical schools typically offer these degrees. These programs require the completion of 60 credit hours, or about 20 college courses, and provide students with a foundation in a particular field of study, such as business, nursing, or engineering. Such degrees can meet general education requirements in areas such as English, math, and social sciences. Options include:

  • The Associate of Arts (AA) focused on liberal arts and the humanities and often used as a transfer degree for students who plan to continue their education in a bachelor’s program at a four-year college or university.
  • The Associate of Science (AS) focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and often used as a transfer degree to four-year institutions.
  • The Associate of Applied Science (AAS) focused on vocational or career-oriented fields and meant to prepare students for entry-level positions in particular industries.

Overall, an associate degree can be a great option for students who want to enter the workforce more quickly or who want to explore a particular field of study before committing to a longer program. The choice between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree will depend on career goals, educational preferences, and financial situations.

Today's Credentials
Certificate Programs

Certificate Programs

College certificates are credentials that students can earn from colleges or universities. These programs typically require less time to complete than degree programs and are designed to provide students with specialized training in specific fields or skillsets. Sometimes, certificates can be earned in succession, or “stacked,” to apply toward associate degrees.

Community colleges, technical schools, and vocational schools often offer credit-bearing certificate programs. They can vary in length from a few weeks to several months or even a year, depending on the program and the level of specialization. Certificate programs can also be designed to complement existing degree programs or to provide additional non-credit training to people already working fields.

Certificates can cover a wide range of topics, including computer programming, healthcare, business, construction, and more. They can also be used to prepare students for specific industry certifications or licensing exams.

Earning a certificate can provide many benefits, including enhancing job skills and employability, increasing earning potential, and providing a pathway to further education and career advancement. They are also often more affordable than degree programs, making the high-quality certificate programs good options for students who want to gain skills and knowledge without taking on a lot of debt.

Industry-recognized certifications are other short-term credentials that validate an individual’s knowledge and skills in a particular field or industry. They are often offered by professional associations, trade organizations, or certification agencies and are intended to demonstrate that someone has a level of competence and expertise. Industry certifications can cover an array of topics, including information technology, healthcare, construction, finance, and more. They can be obtained by passing an exam, completing a training program, or demonstrating work experience and knowledge in a particular area.

Common examples of industry certifications include the CompTIA A+ certification for computer technicians, the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification for healthcare professionals, and the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification for project managers. Many industries require or strongly recommend specific certifications for certain jobs or positions.

Today's Credentials
Quality in Higher Learning

Quality in Higher Learning

The country must encourage responsible innovation and ensure the learning represented by degrees and other credentials is aligned to the needs of today’s economy and society. The learning credentials signify should be clear to everyone—from hiring managers to graduates themselves. 

An Apprenticeship Brotherhood

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