Currently, the expense of a traditional college education is the major deterrent for those who are considering attending a university. Student loans can be exceptionally predatory and all-expense-paid grants or scholarships are the exceptions, not the rule.
Because of the inflated cost of a college education, many job seekers have turned to digital badges as a form of educational credentials and, more and more frequently, employers have been accepting them as educational experiences. But as the discussion for student loan forgiveness and even free tuition heats up, we should consider what the place for digital badges will be when the barrier for traditional education no longer exists.
It’s time to set the record straight about digital badges. They are an incredibly useful resource and educational tool, but too many people misunderstand their purpose.
Firstly, digital badges have never been a replacement for traditional education, nor were they meant to be. Badges are often referred to as “micro-credentials”—they show a gained or achieved skill in a more specific area than a degree.
For example, let’s say we have two people—one who has a bachelor’s for graphic design and one with a set of badges signifying various graphic design skills. For the degree-holder, all that you really know at first glance is that they have a degree. They have an education, but there’s no guarantee that their expertise is in the same area of graphic design that you’re hiring for.
The badge-holder, however, has specific skills acquired. If you need a Photoshop expert, you can look and see if the candidate in question has one or several Photoshop-related badges and count them in or out of the hiring process immediately.
Secondly, just because someone has a degree doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want the opportunity to further their education. People often think of education as a key to a locked door—”If I get X degree then I can get X job”—and in some ways they are correct, but I try to discourage that way of thinking.
Education is part of professional and personal development and shouldn’t stop after a college degree. The world doesn’t stop and industries are constantly evolving their technology and ways of working. To keep the playing field fair, employees need to be constantly offered educational opportunities so that they can grow alongside their chosen profession.
I’ve always maintained that digital badges are essential for the workplace—they not only allow employees to skill up and for employers to form a more intelligent, capable workforce, but they also make employees feel valued. When a business invests in its workers’ education, it’s a sign that it values them as members of the company family and not just bodies filling desks.
I hope that free tuition does become a reality in our country—it would remove barriers holding back already underserved Americans and help bridge the opportunity, skills, and even wage gaps that exist in many industries. But the need for digital credentials won’t go away even if college becomes a more available option. There is value in being badged in specific skills and having an educational option post-college that doesn’t involve going back for another degree.