Are Microcredentials Worth It?

Explore facts, statistics, and real student stories about the value of microcredentials. Plus, find out how to use digital badges in your job search.
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Lyss Welding
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Higher Education Research Analyst

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Updated on February 28, 2024
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Senior Data Reporter

Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
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Data Summary

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    Microcredentials — also called digital badges — are shorter non-degree credentials that cost less than a traditional degree.
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    Microcredential earners report benefits such as meeting career goals, learning something new, and improving their first job application.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2]
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    Microcredential completers are less likely to report that these courses helped them earn a promotion or pay raise.Note Reference [2]
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    6 in 10 learners say microcredentials are too expensive.Note Reference [1] However, some employers cover program fees.Note Reference [3]

Nowadays, there are many affordable online colleges to choose from, but microcredentials offer an even cheaper, quicker option. These programs promise to help career climbers and lifelong learners build skills without breaking the bank.

People who complete microcredentials tend to agree that they learned something new and reached a career goal. However, many learners who pay out of pocket say these programs are too expensive.

In this report, we'll break down the potential costs and benefits of microcredentials to help you better understand your education and career options.

Microcredential Costs

In 2023, research organization EdResearcher surveyed over 25,000 learners pursuing an EdX MicroMaster or Coursera specialization. They found the average cost of a MicroMaster was around $1,500 — up 60% from three years ago.Note Reference [2] MicroMasters ranged in cost from about $200-$4,700.

Most EdX MicroMaster programs had the added benefit of being stackable toward a full master's degree. About 60% of MicroMasters in the researchers' study could count toward 9-12 credits of a master's degree, which is typically 30-36 credits in total.Note Reference [2]

Coursera charges students $49-$79 per month for specializations, so your cost depends on how long it takes you to complete the program. These specializations, however, don't necessarily stack toward a degree.

Some learners received some financial help to pay for their MicroMasters.Note Reference [2]

Of course, there's a time cost too. Researchers in the study found that on average, MicroMasters completers spent over 400 hours in their programs, on average. They calculated an average opportunity cost of $11,700 in potential earnings.Note Reference [2]

For what it's worth, most employers claim they offer employees cost incentives to pursue skills or certifications. In a 2023 survey by the online and professional education organization UPCEA:Note Reference [3]

  • 68% of employers said they offer some tuition reimbursement to employees to gain additional skills or pursue certifications.
  • 45% said they offer reimbursement for education materials.
  • 39% said they allow employees to complete coursework during business hours.

Microcredential Benefits

In a 2023 IBM and Morning Consult report, most learners who earned a digital credential said these credentials were somewhat or very helpful in achieving career goals.

Percentage Who Agree Their Digital Credentials Helped Achieve Career Goals


of Students


of Job Seekers


of Career Changers

Source: IBM and Morning ConsultNote Reference [1]

However, 60% of those polled also said these programs were too expensive.Note Reference [1]

The EdResearcher study asked program completers more specifically about their expectations and if those expectations were met.

  • While about one-quarter of MicroMasters completers (26%) expected to gain networking opportunities with other professionals, only 12% reported networking as a benefit.
  • 21% of course completers thought the program would help them start their own business; only 6% reported this as a benefit.
  • 12% expected to receive a promotion, and 11% expected a pay raise; just 4% reported these benefits.

However, while only 28% of learners entered their program expecting to learn something new, nearly all reported this outcome. Additionally, 15% of completers said their program helped improve their application for their first job.

The bottom line: If you're considering enrolling in a microcredential or digital badge program, think realistically about the goals you hope to achieve. Also, try to get financial aid from your employer or the microcredential provider.

Real Microcredential Story: Full-Time Office Worker Builds Skills to Boost a Side Business

As an Ecampus enrollment services specialist at Oregon State University (OSU), Melissa Whitney witnesses the benefits of microcredentials for students on a daily basis.

Microcredentials are a great option for those who may be looking for a quicker and more affordable way to advance in their career or switch gears if they are seeking out a career change, Whitney told BestColleges. They are also a great way to explore your interests ... or to stack toward a degree if that is someones end goal.

In 2022, Whitney experienced these perks first-hand when she enrolled in OSU's Business of Viral Content Creation microcredential program — a three-course, nine-credit credential that currently costs $3,150 in total before financial aid. Like many microcredentials earners, Whitney had access to tuition benefits from her employer to reduce her actual costs.

Whitney wanted to learn how to build profit through her side hustle in photography and brand herself as a professional photographer. Initially, she applied to a bachelor's program in digital communication arts. But she wasn't certain she wanted to pursue an entire degree.

I thought doing the microcredential would be a good way to explore something I am really interested in, but also have something to show for my time and efforts while deciding what I want to do moving forward, she said. It was a great option for me, and overall, it did feel more manageable and affordable, while also allowing me to take classes I was really interested in.

Whitney credits the microcredential course for helping her build skills in marketing, research, social media, and developing a business plan.

Overall, I really appreciated the ways in which these courses pushed me out of my comfort zone... and because of that ended up establishing some awesome connections, Whitney said. I would say it exceeded my expectations.

For now, Whitney's applying what she learned in her program toward her side business and pressing pause on earning a bachelor's degree, while continuing to work full time at OSU.

I love learning and will most likely continue taking classes here and there, Whitney said. That is another awesome thing about the microcredentials — they feel more manageable, and I can stop in and out as needed until I complete it.

What Employers Say About Microcredentials

According to UPCEA, hiring professionals see additional benefits for employees and candidates who complete microcredentials.Note Reference [3]

  • 76% of hiring professionals said that microcredentials demonstrate employees' willingness to develop their skills.
  • 63% said they demonstrate an employee's initiative.
  • 60% said microcredentials are an easy way to communicate employees' skills and competencies.

Additionally, in a 2022 SHRM report, more than 8 in 10 executives, supervisors, and HR professionals said alternative credentials offer employees greater credibility. The majority of executives (70%) and supervisors (53%) also agreed that employees with alternative credentials are better performers.Note Reference [4]

Still, executives, supervisors, and HR pros agreed that when comparing alternative credentials to experience and degrees, experience trumps everything.

Where to Earn Microcredentials

You can find microcredentials on many massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, including Coursera, EdX, LinkedIn, and Udacity. In addition, many large employers and universities partner with these MOOC providers to offer microcredentials.

If you're interested in earning microcredentials or digital badges and you're currently employed, start by asking your employer for information. Your company might already partner with a school or credentialing organization. They might even subsidize the cost of your microcredential if it relates to your role.

You can also find microcredentials at community colleges, state universities, or private colleges. For example, Ohio State's Fisher College of Business recently launched a financial technology microcredential program. Meanwhile, the University of Texas System has partnered with Coursera to offer over 35 microcredentials for in-demand fields.

How to Use Microcredentials in Your Job Search

These days, many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) — software that reads and sorts job candidates' resumes in the hiring process. However, most companies' systems don't recognize microcredentials like they do traditional degrees and work experience.

In fact, just under one-third of HR professionals (32%) whose companies use an ATS say their system can screen for alternative credentials, according to the 2022 SHRM report.Note Reference [4]

If you're thinking of earning microcredentials to increase your hireability, be prepared to explain your credentials and digital badges — and their value — in your cover letter and interviews.


  1. IBM Global Skills and Education Study. IBM and Morning Consult. February 2023. (back to footnote 1 in content ⤶)
  2. Hollands, F. M., Kazi, A., Javier, K., & Ginsberg, Y. C. Benefits and Costs of Participation in MOOC-Based Alternative Credentials. EdResearcher. February 2023. (back to footnote 2 in content ⤶)
  3. Fong, J., Etter, B., & Sullberg, D. The Effect of Employer Understanding and Engagement on Non-Degree Credentials. UPCEA and Collegis Education. February 2023. (back to footnote 3 in content ⤶)
  4. The Rise of Alternative Credentials in Hiring. SHRM. April 2022. (back to footnote 4 in content ⤶)