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Providers of short-term nondegree programs face high costs and significant challenges differentiating in an increasingly crowded space, according to a new report.

The report by the Aspen Institute finds that nondegree programs must cover expenses like instruction, marketing, and student services despite typically charging lower tuition than degree programs. They also struggle to stand out in a market with many competitors offering similar credentials.

This makes it difficult for nondegree providers to achieve scale and reach students effectively, the report says. Many remain small, local organizations even as they aim to expand access and prepare more learners for in-demand jobs.

“There is no shortage of options or opinions on the best path forward, but there are complex challenges to navigating a new landscape of opportunities and financing new non-degree programming,” the report states. “Scale is crucial, but scaling non-degree programs also introduces new costs and complexities.”

The report calls for collective action to address issues around affordability, financial aid, accountability, and more. This includes collaborating with government agencies, philanthropies, and employers to develop new funding models, braiding together resources, and gaining insight into what truly meets learner and industry needs.

Nondegree providers must also work to raise awareness of the value and variety of short-term credentials, enhance data and research on program outcomes, and build consensus around metrics of success beyond just job placement. By coming together, they can amplify individual voices, share knowledge, and push for changes to policy, practice, and perceptions.

While nondegree programs have significant promise, realizing that promise at scale will depend on tackling key challenges proactively and creatively through partnership and partnership. With shared goals and a commitment to quality, relevance, and equity, progress can be made toward building a system that expands opportunity, enhances affordability, and enables lifelong, continuous learning through a diverse range of innovative learning options.

But siloed thinking and competition will only hinder progress. Nondegree providers have a shared interest in the success and scale of alternatives to degree programs, even if their specific offerings differ. By working across those differences, they can transform access, affordability, and success for all learners. The future may well depend on their ability to do so.



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