Fast Track: The Merits Of Short-Term Credentialing

Neetu Arnold

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by The American Conservative on April 19, 2021. An excerpt is republished below with permission. To read the full article, click here.


Many Americans started thinking more seriously about job security after unemployment rates peaked in the midst of the coronavirus lockdowns. Naturally, they turned to education; for decades, the bachelor’s degree has been perceived as the hallmark to a stable career path with secure employment. But desperate times had Americans looking for quicker and cheaper options.

Enter short-term credentials, certificates, and other sub-baccalaureate programs. While such programs have existed for years, they are now of greater interest as various tech companies create their own short-term credentials for in-demand jobs. Universities are getting in on the action too: The University of Utah wants to offer short-term programs by partnering with businesses. As these credentials continue to garner interest, Congress is even considering extending federal funds to programs of length less than 15 weeks.

The increased interest in short-term credentials has reinvigorated a broader conversation about higher education’s role in the labor market. New America, a think tank, is skeptical of federal funds going to these programs over poor employment outcomes, especially among minorities and women. Their analysis implies that a traditional college education still produces the best outcome for students, and the disparities warrant “new efforts to ensure that all students have equal access to the promise of higher education.”

On the other hand, I recently published a report, Priced Out: What College Costs America, in which I argue that we should decrease demand for four-year degrees in order to fix our broken student loan system and runaway tuition growth. Growth in short-term credentialism presents a unique opportunity to solve these long-term problems through competition in the postsecondary education market. ...


Neetu Arnold is a Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: Marten Bjork, Public Domain

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