Money & Business

Can Associations Attract Millennials with Credentialing?

By / Aug 4, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A recent study finds that more than 90 percent of educational institutions are offering credentials and digital badges, in part, to serve their millennial students, who favor badging and certificates to traditional degrees. What lessons can associations learn from the study?

Usually, I don’t have to do a lot of guesswork when my two-year-old daughter wants something. When she says “I want cookie now” or “I don’t want go bed,” her desires are pretty clear—even if she does miss an article or two in her articulation.

What about millennials? What do they want? It’s a question we think about a lot over here at Associations Now, and it’s a question we know that many associations are considering on a regular basis too. And sometimes a study or two—or the five that are referenced in the blog—help us connect the dots on what this ever-growing generation wants and how we, as associations, can address those desires.

(As an aside: Did you know that millennials are now the largest population in the U.S.? According to the Pew Research Center, as of April 2016, millennials have overtaken the baby boomers in terms of population).

But back to what they want: In late June, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA)—in partnership with Penn State and Pearson—released a study that showed that 94 percent of educational institutions offer alternative credentials. And one-in-five institutions offer badges.

It’s an interesting finding because a study in 2012—thanks to Pew for this one too—found that a record-breaking one-third of young adults had graduated from both high school and college. All this to say, that even while millennials are finishing high school and college at higher rates than any other generation, they’re also looking for alternative credentials or digital badging.

“The degree will always be an important credential, but it won’t always be the gold standard,” said Jim Fong, director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Marketing strategy, in a press release. “As millennials enter the prime years of their career and move into positions of greater power, we’ll see more alternative credentials for specific industries and possibly across the board. Higher education institutions, especially those in our survey, are showing that they are being progressive with workforce needs.”

Charlene Templeton, the assistant dean of continuing education at Anne Arundel Community College, said that digital badges are practical and help students get jobs. “Digital badge earners indicated that since all job applications are online, the badge sets them apart from other applicants,” Templeton said in a press release. “Employers like that they can click on the badge icon and verify an applicant’s skills. It’s a win-win for both.”

Now, just to be clear, the UPCEA study surveyed educational institutions, not associations, though I think there are lessons to be learned. Especially since, another study—this one from the software firm Abila—found that some of the biggest reasons why millennials join associations is for the jobs, training, and career advancement.

And in the last poll I’ll reference in this blog, Gallup recently found that although millennials most value opportunities to learn or grow in their workplace, “only 39 percent strongly agree that they learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better. Slightly less than one in two millennials strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the past year.”

From all of these studies, polls, and surveys, we’ve learned that millennials want professional development. We’ve also learned that the majority of millennials feel like they’re not getting professional development, and lastly, to reference the UPCEA survey, that they value certificate and digital badging programs. So, where should they logically turn?

To their professional association, of course.

Luckily, there are a fair amount of groups—like the American Alliance of Museums—already experimenting with digital badging and competency-based certifications. And those numbers are sure to continue to climb.

And Veronica Diaz, the director of online programs at EDUCAUSE, said digital badging “has been well worth the time and investment” for that the group, which works to advance higher education through IT. “From our data, we’ve seen a huge spike in professionals accepting the credential and making them public and sharing them in their LinkedIn networks,” she says.

How can your associations attract millennial members with professional development and credentialing programs? Where have you found success? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. More »

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