Promote Lifelong Learning by Unbundling Credentials

Breaking higher-education credentials into subcomponents aligned with workforce needs involves the practice of giving credit for existing skills—including those obtained through professional experience and prior coursework—and offers opportunities to learn outside of traditional education institutions.

Higher education today is mostly focused on four-year degree programs in which students pay a bundled fee to receive a set of services that may or may not relate to their future employment. As employers demand an evolving set of job-related skills and the cost of higher education continues to rise, it is less tenable for all learners to commit their resources to four-year degree programs.

If we unbundle degrees so that learners can invest in the discrete type of education they need, then we will make education more affordable and practical—and available to a broader segment of the population.

Emerging Model: Excelsior College

Excelsior is a private, nonprofit college with six academic schools offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. It is known for providing higher education to nontraditional students through online programming, facilitated transfer policies, and exam-based credit for prior knowledge.

The overall goal of this school is to help students piece together a number of individual achievements in order to earn a college degree at an affordable price. Excelsior accepts any credit from a regionally accredited institution if the course falls within Excelsior’s degree requirements. The school also offers credit for demonstrated skills outside of school that relate to degree programs. (For example, military training can be worth up to half of the credits needed to complete a degree.) The impact has been substantial.