JSU Exploring Micro-Credential Program


A new post-baccalaureate option is on the horizon for those who want to advance in their careers but aren’t ready to pursue a graduate degree. JSU is preparing to offer micro-credentials, allowing students to demonstrate a mastery of new, specialized skills without having to go the traditional route of earning an advanced degree.

Think of micro-credentials almost like certifications in a particular field. They can either be broad or specific. 

“Micro-credentials recognize smaller sets of knowledge, but not a full graduate degree,” explained Dr. Andrea Porter, JSU director of Graduate Studies. “It’s a way of showing an employer you have an expertise in social media/marketing or emergency management, for example, without having to complete a full graduate degree program.”

Earning a micro-credential requires between three to five graduate classes. Participants must complete all activities, assessments and projects for their courses to earn the credential, just like regular graduate classes.

“There is still the rigor associated with graduate-level work,” said Porter. “But it’s a little less expensive than a traditional degree, making it less prohibitive to someone who doesn’t want to come back to get a whole graduate degree but instead wants something more focused, something that shows a certain specialization.”

The concept of micro-credentials was started by a consortium of Ivy League universities – Edx.org – including Harvard and MIT, which offer a variety of online courses for students to learn new skills and technology. Locally, the Alabama Council of Graduate Deans, of which Porter is a member, is creating a relatively similar program targeting people who are already in the workforce in the state.

“Micro-credentials are a hot topic in higher education right now,” Porter said. “We want to relate them to workforce development in Alabama by tying the available micro-credentials to industry.”

Ultimately, the plan would allow students to “stack” micro-credentials together for a master’s degree.

“What we’re trying to anticipate are these new hybrid jobs where you’re doing several different things, and a traditional graduate degree might not offer you the preparation you need,” Porter said. “The idea is to take micro-credentials, on different specific topics of interest, and allow a student to stack them together to form a degree, ending with a capstone course to tie all the topics together.”

Porter wants to emphasize that this program is in the very early stages. 

“We really think this will help make people more marketable,” Porter said. “It’s about taking what you already know, that knowledge base, and adding more specific training in one area.”

Porter believes that JSU will move forward with the program whether or not the state-wide consortium comes to fruition.

“We’re really ahead of the curve with our accrediting bodies,” she said. “We’re going to be setting a new standard in terms of how they’re going to accredit us as an agency. Alabama is about to become a trendsetter by bringing micro-credentials down from that ivory tower in the Ivy League to something more tangible for people who really want a job.”