Industry Insights

The Case for Macro-Credentials

12/16/20   |  
Graeme Owens, EVP & Country Manager at Keypath Education Canada

I’ve spent the last few weeks writing about the growing cracks forming in Canada’s postsecondary sector and how COVID-19 continues to widen them. Institutions across the country are struggling to secure sustainable fundingconfronting rising per-student costsignoring slowing enrolment trends, and failing to market higher education to a larger number of Canadians. While those institutions have been working to address these issues, past solutions may not be the best way to chart a sustainable future in this new decade.

Addressing each of these issues calls for an evolving approach that recognizes the realities of a new, more inclusive postsecondary system. It means acknowledging that we need new, fully accessible digital solutions. And how we need to provide the kind of work-relevant, lifelong learning that a leading knowledge economy will demand as we recover from the pandemic.


One solution has been ‘micro-credentials’ offered by institutions, businesses, and other organizations around the world. These ‘micro-credentials’, as defined by eCampus Ontario, provide “a certification of assessed learning associated with a specific and relevant skill or competency” that “augment traditional education through pathways into regular postsecondary programming”. But while micro-credentials do provide recognized documentation for specific skills, they may not always advance the learner to a level recognized by many workplaces or academic settings.

To be clear — there’s nothing wrong with micro-credentials. There were about 110 million people around the world enrolled in these courses last year — so there’s clearly an appetite for micro-credentialing. But as Sean Gallagher points out, full degree programs have an advantage because they “represent a greater level of commitment, depth, achievement and perseverance” – and hold more weight with academic experts and many workplaces.

The problem remains that advanced degrees have historically required people to study on campus — and carry the expensive living costs of on-campus study. And there’s the paradox. These advanced degrees of study are exactly what many professionals need right now — but they usually cater to people who take them consecutively, right out of their undergraduate degree, or concurrently with another on-campus degree program. So, if you don’t live in a university town, or don’t have time to go to class in-person, advanced degrees aren’t accessible to you. Micro-credentialing doesn’t solve for this problem. But macro-credentialing does. 


By ‘macro-credentials’ I mean taking the same advanced campus-style curricula and credentials established at postsecondary institutions that are valued and accepted by students and employers, and putting them online. Instead of taking a course here and there, macro-credential learning lets professionals become full-fledged learners again — earning complete, high-quality, career-advancing programs from home, without having to step away from work or family obligations.

For example — if you’re a university-educated professional living in a northern or remote community, your options for taking a Master of Computer Science program used to be few and far between. But now, you have the option of completing that program from anywhere — and from one of Canada’s top universities. That can be life changing.

The good news is that this style of campus-quality education delivered online is growing rapidly in Canada. I’d like to think that our team at Keypath is one of the reasons why. We work closely with world-leading universities around the world and here in Canada to design purposeful online professional programs. We think this is the best way to deliver the most career-relevant skills and impact to busy professionals preparing for the future of work.

Maximizing Value

Because of our breadth of diversity and data, Keypath quickly responds to future of work trends and can help universities innovate ahead of the curve. At the same time, we keep the student experience at the heart of everything we do. That innovation is something institutions can leverage when they work with our team, without having to do heavy lifting when it comes to adapting curricula for online use or providing student support at a distance.

This style of accessible learning benefitted institutions that had the foresight to offer macro-credential programming before the pandemic. Going forward, it will benefit these institutions even after the pandemic, by addressing the rising per-student cost of offering degrees.

A major element built into the on-campus learning model is the unchanging reality of labour costs. In a physical classroom, institutions can’t maximize the value of salaries paid to faculty by enrolling more students because of a finite supply of seats. Macro-credentials aren’t limited that way. Creating more student enrolment space online helps institutions to increase enrolment dollars, maximizing the value of faculty salaries.

Importantly, this can be done without expanding the workload of these instructors or interfering with their curriculum design work. While the curriculum is developed by the institution and its reputable instructors, we take that high-quality course content and convert it into a modular format that mirrors the content and experience of the on-campus degree. While instruction is provided by the same world-class, industry-expert faculty, we provide student support for large online cohorts. Limiting the burden on faculty while maximizing the reach of their world-class instruction is a crucial way to sustainably improve an institution’s bottom line.

Attracting Students

In addition to helping bring macro-credential programming online, and supporting students once enrolled, institutions also need to speak to a wider range of prospective students. Professionals, in particular, represent a largely untapped market. And once they’re engaged, they’ll stay engaged, because they exist outside of the kind of demographic dips that are expected for the next generation of prospective students over the coming decade. And given the uncertainty of our times, it makes a lot of sense for people to continue their professional studies to become more marketable.

Macro-credentials are a game-changer not just for working professionals but for the institutions with the vision to offer them. They engage a group of largely untapped potential students and offer a sustainable source of revenue for institutions that offer this flexible programming. They may not be a silver bullet in addressing all of the challenges facing institutions over the next decade but they can help inoculate institutions against swings in political decision-making, dips in demographics and government funding, and the onset of unpredictable and challenging economic times.

As the world continues to battle both a global pandemic and a world-wide recession, and as the postsecondary sector remains caught in a sustainability crisis, there has never been a better time for institutions to carve out their own path toward a more independent and sustainable future. Macro-credentials offer significant potential in helping them get there and we are here to help.

Get in touch with us if you're interested in learning more.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn