Vail Daily column: Serving modern learners | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Serving modern learners

Ross Iverson
Valley Voices

There is a $1.2 trillion crisis crippling the country, and the Vail Center, a local certificate-oriented organization of higher education, is offering what many in the nation consider a solution.

According to the White House, $1.2 trillion is precisely the number of government-backed education debt that exists today in the country. As students have become cost-burdened by traditional environments responsible for such debts, a new trend known as "stacked credentials" or "stackable credentials" offers a focused, more affordable alternative.

A few weeks ago, I learned a really astonishing statistic. Seven in 10 graduates in 2013 had student loan debt and the average debt was just shy of $30,000.

The exact statistic comes from The Institute for College Access and Success and reads that 69 percent of graduates from traditional public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 had debt. The average debt was reported to be $28,400 per borrower.

Instead of dedicating years, you dedicate days or weeks per course. Instead of throwing down big chunks of semester tuition, you pay a few thousand dollars per course. Instead of taking required courses throughout multiple years, you choose weekly or monthly curriculum within your interests or that fit your goals for employment.

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It has become worse since 2013. In 2015, Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Edvisors, a conglomeration of websites that disseminate information on planning and paying for college, found that the number had jumped to 71 percent of graduates having debt and the average debt per borrower in 2015 was around $35,000.

With student costs going up, students are seeking an alternative approach to education and finding their refuge in the more focused subject matter offered by stacked credential programs and their certificates.

Instead of dedicating years, you dedicate days or weeks per course. Instead of throwing down big chunks of semester tuition, you pay a few thousand dollars per course. Instead of taking required courses throughout multiple years, you choose weekly or monthly curriculum within your interests or that fit your goals for employment.

To explain how stackable credentials work is to explain, essentially, how the Vail Centre works. To serve the needs of modern learners, the Vail Centre offers periodic short course programs with a certificate awarded upon completion of the course.

For instance, they are currently offering enrollment in a program from Yale University that offers a certificate in leadership, a program from Cornell University that offers a certificate in hospitality and a program from Duke University that offers a certificate in nonprofit management.

The courses are available as open enrollment, which means there isn't lengthy admission testing or a rigorous registration process. Based on time, resources, cost, and, importantly, subject matter, the programs are a viable, useful approach to education.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 56 percent of traditional college provosts say their schools are "very effective" at preparing students for work, whereas 11 percent of business leaders "strongly agree" that college graduates have the specific skills needed in their company.

These programs offer an alternative to that. You aren't committing to semesters of coursework that might not be useful to you. You are studying what you want to or need. Even for those who already have four-year degrees, getting a certificate in your area of interest from another respected university makes your job prospects that much more appealing without a ton of overhead debt.

Ross Iverson is CEO of the Vail Centre. For more information, go to http://www.vailcentre.org or email ross@vailcentre.org.