This Online MBA Program Is Embracing Stackable Credentials

The University of Jamestown's new online master of business administration program will have a heavy focus on industry-ready microcredentials.
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Published on April 9, 2024
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  • Employer demand for nondegree credentials is on the rise.
  • The University of Jamestown, a small university in North Dakota, is infusing stackable credentials into its new online master of business administration (MBA) curriculum.
  • That program will offer students flexibility and real-time value as students work toward their degree and earn credentials.
  • Credentials include high-demand areas like supply chain management, agribusiness, healthcare administration, and more.

Students and employers alike see value in nondegree credentials — and a new online master of business administration (MBA) program plans to infuse those stackable credentials into its curriculum.

The University of Jamestown, a small, private university in North Dakota, will launch an online MBA program in fall 2024 featuring a number of stackable credentials in high-demand areas. While a growing number of small universities are embracing online MBA programs, the University of Jamestown's programmatic approach to microcredentials sets it apart.

Michael Brizek, director of online business programs for the University of Jamestown and a professor of business administration, told BestColleges that the focus on stackable credentials is part of an ongoing shift in the industry.

This gives a candidate an opportunity to not only get a core MBA within a year but also stack up to two stackable credentials in things like sports management, leadership, business analytics, things of that nature, Brizek said in an interview.

Credentials Offer Real-Time Value

Flexibility and return on investment are key to the shift toward microcredentials. Brizek said the credentials will allow students a highly customizable education.

Students have the option to earn a microcredential on its own and then later apply it to the degree because it counts as a graduate-level credit. That will also mean students don't have to wait to earn their full MBA to start seeing a return on investment.

They might want to come in and brush up on supply chain management, leadership, or sports administration and then find that they can lead to credits toward the degree if they choose to do so, Brizek said.

The University of Jamestown MBA features credentials in a number of high-demand, fast-growing fields, including digital marketing, business analytics, agribusiness, supply chain management, and more.

MBA programs often allow students to concentrate or specialize in a specific area, but the University of Jamestown credentials stand on their own in addition to counting toward their degree.

Each credential consists of two three-credit-hour courses. The school's healthcare management microcredentials, for example, include classes in leading a healthcare team and change and innovation in the healthcare industry.

The credentials were informed by industry needs, Brizek said. Many of those credentials are in high-demand areas for businesses, with supply chain management and business analyst occupations set for major growth over the next decade. He also noted that the agribusiness credential will help to address a leadership shortage in that major industry.

Farming and agribusiness is a multibillion-dollar industry in the Midwest, and there is a talent gap there as far as the management and administration of agribusiness itself, Brizek said.

Nondegree Credentials on the Rise

The University of Jamestown's focus on microcredentials comes as students and employers alike seek out nondegree credentials and certifications.

A 2023 Collegis Education and University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) report found that an overwhelming majority of employers see value in nondegree credential programs. Just 2% of employers surveyed said they saw little or no value in them, and 74% of employers said employees with those credentials helped their organizations fill skill gaps.

Employers said nondegree credentials added practical and real-world experience, provided workers with specialized skills, and improved performance.

Some employers worried about the quality of credential education and the skills competencies acquired through it. However, many indicated they wanted to work with universities to develop programs.

Brizek noted that major employers like Meta, Google, and Apple are offering certifications and credentialing to their employees.

Certificates and other nondegree programs like bootcamps have been on the rise in recent years, BestColleges previously reported.

Those are often seen as a complement to graduate education rather than a replacement for it, with a recent Council of Graduate Schools report indicating that microcredentials are best understood as part of a larger ecosystem including graduate degrees, not as an alternative to graduate degrees.

That report also found that nondegree credentials add value like rapid upskilling for students already enrolled in degree programs, BestColleges previously reported, with employers favoring university-based certificate and credential programs.

Brizek said online options like the University of Jamestown's program also boost access for students and allow for flexible working options so students don't have to leave the workforce while working toward their degree or credential.

The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) is also incorporating nondegree credentials into a graduate-level program. CU Denver's master's degree in sustainable business will launch in fall 2024 and will be made up of stackable certificates so students can customize their education.