Noncredit Research Collaborative

A Primer on Noncredit and Non-degree Credentials


Rising interest in shorter-term pathways to good careers drives interest to alternatives to traditional degree programs, fed further by rising costs of higher education and a recognition of the hurdle that completing a degree program poses for many individuals, particularly for adults seeking new opportunities. The alternative pathways found in noncredit education and non-degree credentials offer distinct flexibility and adaptability, which can better meet student and employer needs in quick, affordable formats. At the same time, the recent flood of these new pathways runs the risk that these alternative pathways might perpetuate longstanding unequal outcomes while diverting individuals onto untested paths that the job market does not yet value. Given these broad questions, we must examine and evaluate exactly how these forms of education and credentials may serve the needs of learners, as well as employers and educational institutions.

This brief provides an overview of various noncredit education and non-degree credentials, including basic definitions
and the career goals they seek to further.