What Does “Stackable Certificates” Mean?

Norwich Pro

April 4, 2022

Continuing education is essential for career growth, greater earnings, moving into specialized jobs, and keeping pace with industry change. For example, as more sophisticated cybersecurity attacks capture critical information of corporations, IT staff must continually learn new software and tactics to defend against potential threats on company operations. To stay current with emerging cybersecurity threats, IT staff must acquire new academic knowledge in niche areas and become experts in their field.

A Pew Research Center study reported more than half of adults in the workforce understand the need for learning new skills throughout their working careers, with 72% noting that the responsibility of acquiring new learning lies with them. Traditionally, continuing education meant earning an advanced degree. However, stackable certificates offer an opportunity for working adults to gain advanced training and specialization in their field or even a new one with the investment of a degree.

The Department of Labor defines the term stackable credentials as “part of a sequence of credentials accumulated over time to build up an individual's qualification to help them move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to potentially different and higher-paying jobs.” Many universities, such as Norwich University through Norwich Pro, offer online stackable certificate programs that allow professionals to customize a learning experience in building credentials to become subject matter experts in their field or learning about a new one.


Credential Stacking

Horizontal, vertical, and value-added are the three recognized ways of stacking credentials. 

  • Vertical stacking of credentials is the traditional method of adding one degree onto another in a hierarchy. So, an individual can stack a baccalaureate over an associate degree and then a graduate over an undergraduate degree. Many companies require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for many jobs that historically did not require degrees.
  • Horizontal stacking of credentials deepens knowledge in a specific field. Instead of attending a degree program that may take years to complete, students can complete a series of stackable certificates horizontally across their field to broaden their skills.
  • Merging vertical and horizontal credential stacking, value-added stacking combines a degree with a certification to qualify for a specific job. For example, adding a certification in project management to a business degree can qualify an individual for this specialized career.

Certificate programs are offered in popular fields such as healthcare, information technology, and business. Often, employees attend certificate courses to gain a basic understanding of other departmental operations with which they interface. At the same time, companies are increasingly looking for managers who have both hard and soft skills that can be earned through certificate programs. Courses offered through certificate programs hone existing skills and supplement others, an important element in keeping pace with change and being positioned for career growth.


Benefits of Stackable Certificates

Horizontal and value-added credential stacking are gaining popularity among working adults to develop specific career skills at their own pace without the costs and time commitment associated with a long-term degree program. With stackable certificates, you can:

  • Transfer credits earned from certificate programs towards a bachelor’s degree.
  • Boost skills valuable to employers.
  • Support professional growth and career advancement.
  • Increase salary range.
  • Qualify for new positions.
  • Gain expertise in different areas such as project management, cybersecurity, and data analysis.
  • Prepare for industry certificates such as the Project Management Professional or Certified Associate in Project Management certification.
  • Check out a new field of study without committing to earning a degree.
  • Differentiate yourself in a competitive job market.


Example of A Stackable Certificate

Unlike degree programs, students do not need to send grades or pass an SAT to enroll in different certificate programs. So, someone with a business degree could attend a certificate program in leadership and project management as well as cybersecurity. Additional notable features of certificate programs include:

  • Typically include a sequence of four to five courses focused on a field of study.
  • Require completion of courses to earn certification.
  • Certification offers credits to apply to an undergraduate degree.
  • Shorter timeline to complete certification than a degree.
  • Courses are typically held online.
  • Certifications are industry recognized.

For example, Norwich Pro offers an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Analytics/Visualization Certificate that introduces AI. This 20-week program offers courses on:

  • AI & Cognitive Technologies Foundation
  • Analytics and Fundamentals
  • Deep Excel
  • Data Visualization
  • Data Storytelling

By earning this certification, a working professional can possibly shift to a position in AI or gain a better understanding of how to use this tool in their job.

Norwich Pro also offers one-week microcertificates where working adults can learn new skills, upskill current competencies and reskill capabilities on a range of topics, including project management, leadership, data analysis, corporate compliance, public works, and military history. In addition, Norwich Pro enables students to do a vertical and/or value-added stack of credentials across different programs. For example, once earning Norwich’s online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, graduates can immediately move into earning Norwich’s master’s in cybersecurity and, then, stack an AI certificate.

Lifelong learning is vital to both career and personal development. Stackable certificates and microcertificates offer working professionals a new option to gain both soft and hard skills to keep pace with changing job requirements while differentiating themselves for advancement. Over a lifetime, individuals can continue to stack certificates and degrees to support their personal development and career growth. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2012 that 46.3 million adults held a professional certification or license, and 19.1 million held an educational certificate.

Norwich Pro offers certificate programs and microcertificates that help working adults to become expert in their fields and explore new career paths.

For information on NorwichPro’s complete roster of stackable certificates and microcertificates, visit https://pro.norwich.edu/.

Have questions? Contact Norwich at https://pro.norwich.edu/contact or by email at norwichpro@norwich.edu.


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