The Rise and Future of Microcredentials in Higher Education

Microcredentials, also called digital badges, are on the rise. Explore facts and statistics behind this trend in higher education.
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Lyss Welding
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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...
Published on March 12, 2024
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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 are short, stackable, and skills-based non-degree credentials.
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    Researchers estimated a 95% increase in the availability of microcredential programs between 2021 and 2022.Note Reference [1]
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    Popular microcredential providers include EdX, Coursera, LinkedIn, Udacity, and many four-year colleges and universities.
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    Companies looking to upskill their workforces in a period of rapid digital transformation may turn to microcredentials as a solution.

The cost of a four-year degree is skyrocketing, while the median income for bachelor's earners fails to keep pace. Master's degrees, too, cost time and money. And graduate students can't always access financial aid. Enter the concept of microcredentials: short, stackable, non-degree credits that help learners build competencies and show off their skills to employers.

Microcredentials are gaining popularity among employers — who need to rapidly train employees in emerging fields — and among career climbers who want to advance in the workforce in a timely and cost-effective way.

Keep reading to learn about the rising prevalence of microcredentials in higher education and their projected future.

What Is a Microcredential?

Microcredentials are short learning modules — typically online — that teach and assess specific, practical skills. Often, students can stack, combine, or bundle microcredentials to demonstrate subject mastery.

Key Features of Microcredentials

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    Short: You can earn a microcredential in less time than a degree. For example, Oregon State University's microcredentials consist of 9-12 credits. A full bachelor's degree is 180 credits.Note Reference [2]
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    Stackable: You can collect microcredentials or digital badges to demonstrate more advanced skills. For example, the University of Central Oklahoma offers microcredential bundles in computer science, diversity and inclusion, and more subjects. And at SUNY Broom Community College, you can apply credits earned in a web development microcredential toward an associate degree in web development.
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    Skills-Based: By the end of the program, you should be able to demonstrate a specific competency or ability, like viral content creation, machine learning for business, or classroom management for educators.

Sometimes “microcredentials” go by other names, including digital credentials, digital badges, online certificates, and alternative credentials. However, you can't really call any online course a “microcredential,” regardless of the quality of teaching or student outcomes. At least, you shouldn't.

The European Commission has offered a clear definition for microcredentials, stating that they represent records of learning outcomes that a learner has acquired following a small volume of learning, which is assessed against transparent and clearly defined criteria.Note Reference [3]

In other words, for a course of study to qualify as a microcredential, it must meet a certain quality standard and provide proof that students learned something.

The Rise of Microcredentials

According to the nonprofit credential registry Credential Engine, 1,603 microcredentials were available to learners in 2022. That's nearly double the number of microcredentials offered in 2021 (820).Note Reference [1]

Microcredentials by the Numbers


total microcredentials in 2022

2x growth

from 2021 to 2022

This count only includes formal microcredentials issued via massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOC providers offer programs on online platforms, often partnering with academic institutions and large employers. Credential Engine counted microcredentials offered by EdX, Coursera, Udacity, and other MOOC providers.

In addition to the over 1,600 microcredentials offered through MOOCs in 2022, learners participated in hundreds of thousands of certificates and non-credential offerings, including over 2,150 coding bootcamp courses and 430,000 digital badges.Note Reference [1]

Employers are also noticing a rise in microcredentials and increasing acceptance of these non-degree credentials in the workplace.

In a 2022 survey of over 750 professionals, including nearly 600 individuals responsible for hiring or training for their organization, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) reported a rise in job applicants listing non-degree credentials on their resumes.Note Reference [4]

According to Credential Engine, the occupation categories providing the most microcredentials in 2022 were:Note Reference [1]

  1. Educational Instruction and Library Occupations
  2. Management Occupations
  3. Computer and Mathematical Occupations
  4. Business and Financial Operations Occupations
  5. Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations

A Deeper Look

What's Causing the Rise in Microcredentials?

Researchers credit the pandemic for accelerating digital innovation. These rapid changes in technology demand upskilling in the workforce — fast.Note Reference [3]

Additionally, critical industries like education and health services have some of the nation's highest number of job openings.Note Reference [5] In light of these developments, industries are recognizing a need for more flexible and accessible pathways into the workforce.

Finally, there's no denying that today's costs associated with higher education have potential students wondering if a degree is even worth it. Microcredentials offer career climbers and lifelong learners attractive benefits for a lower cost than a traditional degree.

Popular Microcredential Providers

In 2023, UPCEA found that LinkedIn Learning was the top spot for employers to find training and professional development opportunities for their employees. Professional associations (e.g., the National Education Association) and four-year colleges and universities were runners-up.Note Reference [6]

The Future of Microcredentials in Higher Education

A couple of major factors point to a bright future for microcredentials. Costs associated with traditional degrees continue to rise, and digital technologies quickly advance, transforming the skills needed to compete in the workforce. Meanwhile, shorter, more affordable credentials can help provide much-needed training and upskilling.

At the same time, while microcredentials are no passing fad, they're also not the norm — and the microcredential provider industry has some work to do, including:

  • Developing quality standards across microcredential programs.
  • Helping hiring teams and software develop the ability to screen for these credentials.
  • Adopting digital badges that job candidates can more easily track and share with employers.
  • Generally, promoting understanding of quality microcredentials among companies and learners.


  1. Credential Engine. (2022). Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials. Washington, DC: Credential Engine. (back to footnote 1 in content ⤶)
  2. Johansen, C. What Is a Microcredential? Here's What You Should Know. Oregon State University. Accessed January 2024. (back to footnote 2 in content ⤶)
  3. Bozkurt, A. & Brown, M. (2022) Micro-credentials: Stackable, Combinable, or Transferable Qualifications. EdTechnica: The Open Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. (back to footnote 3 in content ⤶)
  4. 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 4 in content ⤶)
  5. Ferguson, S. & Hoover, M. Understanding America's Labor Shortage: The Most Impacted Industries. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. January 2024. (back to footnote 5 in content ⤶)
  6. Etter, B., Fong, J., Sullberg, D., & Wang, K. Unveiling the Employer's View: An EmployerCentric Approach to Higher Education Partnerships. UPCEA and Collegis Education. January 2024. (back to footnote 6 in content ⤶)