The Value of the Non-Degree Program - Not Just for High-Tech

What is the value of the non-degree program, an education trend that continues to grow in popularity? For employers looking to use tuition investments to bolster important skill sets, these alternatives to traditional degrees - certificates, nano-degrees, boot camps, or MOOCs - offer clear benefits, namely knowledge delivered quickly at a substantially lower cost. They're also often more directly relevant to a career than a degree-based program.

It's safe to say these programs are on the rise. Certificates have almost doubled in volume over the last 10 years; Boot camps have taken off very rapidly from a standing start just a couple years ago; and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), with an estimated 15 million current users, are evolving to include paid programs offering certificates of completion.

The Non-Degree Program as the Antidote to Skills Gaps

While these formats are being used for other skills, there's no question that programming-related initiatives have been trailblazers. Coding Boot Camps, for example, had 16,000 graduates in 2015, already equivalent to a third of all Computer Science graduates for US colleges. And Udacity is breaking ground in the MOOC space offering six nano-degrees in IT-related areas that students can earn on their own schedule for $200/month.

The current emphasis on developing IT-related skills in new ways makes perfect sense - it's an area of feverish demand where the practical skills learned can be quickly applied, and high returns justify the investment. And the benefits here are proven. Pick up any newspaper and you're bound to see an article about tech professionals being snapped up by employers at exceptional salaries.

Developing Critical Skills Across Industries

But what about outside of IT? Skills gaps exist in many other areas, after all, something the tightening job market will exacerbate. Can nano-degrees or MOOCs become effective for other high demand skill-sets, such as business strategy, event planning or market research?

In fact, examples can already be found. A couple of note: 

  • Coursera offers specialization certificates in areas such as digital marketing, project management and becoming a social scientist; $250-$500 to complete.
  • FullBridge offers young professionals seeking core business skills short courses costing $1,500 - $6,000 focused on areas such as finance, marketing and innovation.

Professional Development: the Key to Recruiting Millennials

Those are the tip of the iceberg. There are indeed substantial opportunities for new providers to teach other skills using these new formats, and employers would be wise to keep a close watch as they develop. The demand is there and will be fueled both by the tight labor market and demographics. The question is in which areas will the perceived value of these programs justify the investments of employers (and students) in time and money?

That will come down to creating external verification to ensure programs meet high standards, and helping employers accept and integrate these programs as legitimate components of their overall learning strategies.

What's certain is that continued heavy investment in this area will drive innovation and quality, expanding both the reach and opportunity. And there are compelling reasons for employers to take note. Skills gaps are just one element. Recruitment and retention are others. Young workers place professional development high on their list of priorities and will be increasingly drawn to employers that offer those opportunities. So by offering economic ways to bolster skills and talent,  these new models for education and professional development may amount to just the solutions everybody is looking for.

Learn more about the tightening labor market and how EdAssist tuition management can support critical talent goals. And check back here for future discussions about how to measure the quality of the education delivered with these programs, and how employers can best integrate them into a comprehensive learning strategy.

Written by: Alan Robins

About the Author

Alan Robins at Bright Horizons

As Director of Product Marketing, Alan drives original research and thought leadership for Bright Horizons education benefits programs, drawing on his extensive experience helping companies optimize education programs to support their Talent and HR objectives. Prior to Bright Horizons, Alan was at Gartner, a global leader in providing advisory services to technology and business executives, where he led new product teams in Europe and the US.