According to the 2020 EDUCASE Horizon Report: “Institutions must rethink their degree pathways to accommodate a changing student demographic and employment landscape. Alternatives include nano- and micro-degrees, competency-based programs, expanded online options, and portable and standards-based credentials.”  

Although this sounds very academic in nature, the trend towards alternative ways of documenting a student’s acumen is now becoming transcendent. And now many university leaders believe in the relevance of the scope and evaluation of a student based on their ability to perform in the workplace. In the end, that is the mission of the university¾to help students successfully enter and excel in the workplace.  

And indeed, the University of California, Irvine, Dean of Continuing Education and Vice Provost of Career Pathways, Gary W. Matkin, Ph.D., has spoken about the importance of alternative digital credentials (ADCs) and the fact that they may, or have the potential to, replace the value of a traditional transcript. Why? Because it seems that the demonstration of acquired skills and knowledge supersedes the importance of where or how it was learned. Along this line of thinking, the university owns the student’s transcript. With a digital credential, the tables are turned, and now a student can easily communicate and distribute their own verification of knowledge, all online, at any time, or any place.  

So, if this new trend is as important as we think, then as students, what should we do? Should we pursue the degree, or will an ADC satisfy our employers? Certainly, a college or university degree is essential, however, I think that it is now imperative that students prove their transferable skills. And an ADC does just that¾but of course, the expectation is that a student still completes a degree. 

Yet, under consideration, a traditional transcript does not necessarily paint the full picture of a student and the accomplishments that they have made during their academic career. And that’s exactly where this next step of academic pursuit comes into play. 

The ADC is an addition to the transcript. As is a certificate program, that a student might invest in to point them into a certain industry, as an example, Project Management. It is all about the value add¾but in a very relevant, thoughtful, and directive way. 

The movement toward a digital credential, or even a certificate program, will eventually begin to influence the traditional degree curriculum. Meaning that what is taught in the classroom will gradually evolve to better prepare students for employment. 

The issue at hand is that a college transcript is static. It is a standalone document that fails most of the market-facing tests that we have come to expect in the age of the Internet and social media. A transcript alone unfortunately cannot communicate the aspirations of students and their signals for long-term career success. Therefore, an ADC or certificate completion allows a student to communicate their own successes that are relevant to their industry(s) of choice. 

If you are concerned about the importance of an alternative digital credential, note that even as far back as 2016, over 94% of 190 four-year colleges/universities were already issuing some type of digital credential.  

A recent study suggests that 60% of industry experts believe that more employers will move towards skills-based hiring, looking at candidates that express what they are able to do, as opposed to what their degree or transcript represents.

The notion of what is important now to an employer is also changing. The cover letter, the resume, and the transcript are important. However, so too is the additional effort. That effort shows dedication and the willingness to be better. 

If you think about this, an alternative way of valuing your accomplishments can make you better than your competition. And that speaks volumes about your character and drive.

If you need more assurance, MIT is in the game of alternative credentials too. In fact, the Director of Learning and Innovation, Phillip Schmidt, at the MIT Lab said, “Universities are interested in providing their graduates with credentials that are useful and digital.”