Stackable Credentials

The Inconvenient Truth about Degrees

I learned an astonishing statistic regarding student debt.  According to The Institute for College Access and Success ( “Seven in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,400 per borrower.

This represents a two percent increase from the average debt of 2012 public and nonprofit graduates.” It’s a $1.2 trillion dollars crisis that cripples students, parents, and the overall economy (Forbes). An unforgivable and inescapable situation until the last payment is made. Ughhh!!!

The Convenient Solution of Stackable Credentials

Now you’re probably asking why lifelong learners pile on even more debt through the pursuit of advanced degrees. Well, they don’t.  A new trend in programs  is quickly changing the way we think of continuous learning – stackable credentials.

Instead of spending another two to five dedicated years and over $100,000 in tuition, universities and colleges are attracting students through certificate and short course programs. These newly created programs are the fastest growing category of higher education offerings through universities and colleges. Instead of dedicating years, you dedicate days or weeks per course.

Instead of throwing down big chunks of semester tuition, you pay a few thousand dollars per course.   Instead of taking required courses over multiple years, you choose weekly or monthly curriculum within your interests.


How Modern Certificate Courses Work

Most courses (or groups of courses) are available as open enrollment requiring no admission testing or lengthy registration process. The face of education is changing into customized higher learning based on time, resources, and subject matter preference.

No need to commit for four to six semesters and take out another college loan. Stack your credentials through certificates or short courses and learn more, more often, over time.

Nonprofit Case of Stackable Credentials

The nonprofit sector is a great example of how stackable credentials can shift an industry. A funny question surfaced during my interview at a nonprofit the other day: they asked about my MBA.  Why is an MBA important to a nonprofit?   Why didn’t they ask if I had a degree in Public Administration or Public Policy?  These are stereotypical degrees associated with nonprofits, right?

OK, the above is not entirely true, because I borrowed the story from an associate.   However, the premise is absolutely consistent with the inconsistencies of running or managing a nonprofit. You certainly need the business knowledge to understand how nonprofits can be profitable, but you also need a nonprofit curriculum.

Many nonprofit leaders began their careers in other fields, and then shifted gears into nonprofit management in order to make a difference in the world. Stackable credentials allow a nonprofit manager to enhance their education in areas such as business management in a donation- and grant-based environment, marketing and brand development, working with boards, and managing staff.

By investing in advanced college coursework targeted at one or more of these discrete skill sets, via a certificate program, managers can take their organizations to the next level with a targeted, time- and budget-limited effort that fits into their busy schedules.

How You Can Start

Stacked credentials and certificate courses are one of the up-and-coming and easiest ways to enhance your skill set.

  1. Take a moment to evaluate your skill set and the needs of your organization.
  2. Consider how much money your organization has for training, and what you might personally be willing to invest in for yourself.
  3. Start with an internet search for certificate programs and see what you find – you might be surprised how many certificates are now being offered!
  4. Think outside the box, too. Perhaps there is one “usual” degree or curriculum that colleagues in your field achieve, but maybe that’s not the right fit for your organization.
  5. Discuss your ideas with colleagues and talk to the university or college that is offering the certificate to learn if the program is right for you.
  6. Enjoy the opportunity to learn new skills, refresh old ones, and network with colleagues as you embark on the program!

Share Your Perspective on Stackable Credentials

Are you at a point in your career where you’re looking for opportunities of relevant, continued education? Do you already have experience with stackable credentials? Please share your thoughts below – we’ll appreciate your contribution highly.


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