What exactly are Stackable Credentials

I’ve been considering obtaining a master’s in digital marketing for some time now. You know, to supplement my skills, take my career one stage further, and all that.

But as much as I must dive into it, I don’t feel like I've lots of time to invest in a full-time program at this time, nor shall we be held in a position to afford all of the tuition costs.

However, Recently i came across something called stackable credentials, which seem to tackle all of these issues by breaking traditional programs into smaller units that may be combined to obtain a degree. 

What are stackable credentials?

Stackable credentials essentially break large degree programs, such as an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, into smaller learning units. You can usually finish the unit inside a couple weeks — or even a couple of hours, with respect to the course.

Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of edX, an online platform that hosts open courses, says that you should think about these credentials like

“the Lego blocks of education you can use to unlock career advancement and higher-paying jobs.”

For each course you complete or skills you learn, you get a certificate or perhaps a badge, which you can use to beef up your resume. Which means that you don’t need to wait two or four years to make use of what you’ve learned, career-wise. 

But the real beauty of stackable credentials lies in because you may either stop once you get these certificates, or you can “stack” them together to obtain a degree. 

Why go for stackable credentials rather than a traditional degree?

So you’re probably wondering why you should even bother to stack credentials when you can just enroll in a regular part-time program to obtain a degree, right?

Well, technically you could.

However, stacking provides a unique group of benefits that are hard to get when you are down the traditional route.

You can begin at any time

Because most stackable credentials are 100% on the internet and asynchronous (aka consisting of pre-recorded classes), many of them are open for enrollment throughout the year, so you don’t have to wait for a next semester or quarter to get going.

They are widely available

Stackable credentials are also widely available. You can find them virtually anywhere, including vocational schools, both private and public universities, as well as online platforms, like edX and Coursera.

No prior knowledge is needed to enroll

No prior knowledge is required to enroll in most of those courses, so you won’t have to pass a pesky standardized test or be susceptible to eligibility requirements to get going. To sign up, you need to simply be willing to understand.

They’re less expensive than traditional college credits

Stackable credentials possess a “pay-as-you-go” billing structure, and credits usually cost between $100 and $200, according to Agarwal, from edX — that’s considerably less than the national average cost per undergraduate credit, that is $594.

Since not everyone needs a full college degree to land the task of the dreams, which means you could possibly get the abilities you need, and save thousands of dollars down the road by selecting these certificates rather than a traditional college program.

You can gain a complete set of skills inside a short period of time

One of the best parts about stackable credentials is that they don’t need a huge commitment of time.

For example, you can aquire a MicroBachelors in Marketing Essentials from Doane University on edX in as little as three months. This program only requires you to definitely spend about seven to nine hours each week on your studies.

This also means that you could start applying what you learn right away, and enhance your job prospects along the way, instead of waiting 2 or 4 years to succeed your job.

They may substitute standardized tests

If you’re thinking about pursuing a graduate program down the road, some universities will waive the GRE or GMAT test requirements for college students who successfully develop a number of stackable credentials, plus you will get a set of skills you can use right away.

So, it’s a win-win.

How stackable credentials work

There are three ways to stack:

  • Vertical.
  • Horizontal.
  • Value-added.

Each of those strategies is designed with a different goal in mind.


Vertical may be the classic method to stack. With vertical stacking, you’re essentially leveling up as you decide to go.

In short, each course and certificate you complete brings you nearer to getting an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree — or perhaps the 3 if you consume a certain sequence. 

This type of stacking is fantastic for anyone who has some college credits — or none whatsoever — and wish to obtain a degree, while simultaneously advancing their careers.


Horizontal stacking is about building your expertise in a particular subject. Unlike vertical stacking, horizontal stacking doesn’t need you to complete the courses in a particular order, nor could they be organized by levels. 

This strategy is heavily used by those employed in technology given that they can get certified in specific areas, like data privacy and cloud security, to further expand their careers as systems administrators, for instance.


Value-added stacking is really a combination of both vertical and horizontal stacking. This form of stacking basically involves both getting a degree and a certificate inside a certain subject, using the objective of graduating prepared to perform a specific job.

An example of this is getting a certificate in project management or business analysis to supplement a company administration degree, with the goal of working as a project manager or as a business analyst. 

Who are stackable degrees right for?

Those who are too busy to dedicate themselves to the traditional college experience

According to the Higher Learning Advocates’ latest data, that is a non-profit organization that advocates for student success beyond senior high school, 37% of all university students are adults older than 25, while 24% seem to be parents.

This means that they may do not have the “linear” or straightforward road to a degree that younger students with fewer responsibilities have. So, for those students who have to juggle school, work, and other family obligations, stackable credentials may be very worthwhile, as they’re more flexible than standard degrees.

Those seeking a career-focused certificate in an in-demand field

Agarwal, from edX, says that stackable degrees are particularly suited for people who desire a career-focused certificate to launch or advance their career in an in-demand field, like business, and health care, for example.

Those who want to avoid a diploma altogether

Stackable credentials can also be the best solution when you have not yet completed a diploma and want to gain valuable skills and knowledge they are able to use to further their careers inside a short period of time.

Is stacking well worth it?

A recent paper by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute also found that adults who complete stackable credentials are 4% more prone to be used than “non-stackers,” and experience an average salary increase of 7% after completing the courses.

The paper also notes that those who stacked courses in health and business experienced higher wage increases when compared with other fields, by having an average quarterly increase of $640 and $760, respectively.

So, yeah, stacking does pay off.

Challenges to consider

Yes, there are many pros to stacking, but there's also several challenges you should be aware of prior to committing to stacking credentials.

Here would be the most important ones.

You’ll have to be very disciplined

Most of those courses are self-paced, or asynchronous, meaning you’ll need to have a large amount of determination and discipline to be able to complete them successfully.

Jon Harbor, provost at Purdue Global, states that some courses do have use of tutoring and frequent interactions with faculty, but still, you’ll have to be very proactive about your learning.

There aren’t as many fields to choose from

If you need to do a quick Search, you’ll observe that many of these credentials are available for in-demand fields, like tech, business, science, engineering, and health.

So, if you’re thinking about some thing niche, it’s possible that you’ll have a harder time finding courses.

Getting educational funding can be challenging

Harbor states that when the credential you’re getting is part of a degree-granting program, you might have the ability to make an application for federal student aid, for example student education loans.

However, these credentials are usually evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with regards to educational funding, so you’ll need to check with the institution first to see your options.

It could be tricky to transfer credits to some non-partner institution

If you are taking a credential in an institution and wish to transfer those credits elsewhere, Harbor says it’s up to the school to decide whether they’ll accept those credits, so that’s something to consider before you enroll.


Stackable credentials are an inexpensive and versatile method to acquire the skills and knowledge you have to advance your job very quickly.

Although they can’t replace a traditional degree, they can make it simpler to get one by allowing you to definitely learn one step at any given time.

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