Last week, following a great New America program, I asked my wise, worldly readers if they had better names for uncredited programs than “uncredited programs.” It’s a term that doesn’t mean much to most people who aren’t already in higher education, and it defines programs by what they aren’t. Surely, I thought, there must be a better way.
I had mentioned that the “certificate” was not ideal, because it is misleading. Some credit programs include certificate programs; indeed, some certificates consist entirely of credited courses. Other certificates are redeemable, if that is the word, for credits. (Some IT certifications work this way.) If we start referring to non-credit programs as certificate programs, we’d be confusing degree programs that include stackable certificates.
It quickly became apparent that I should have nuanced the question. Broadly speaking, “non-credit” programs fall into three broad categories: Adult Basic Education, Workforce Development, and Personal Enrichment. EBA refers to programs like adult literacy or beginner-level English as a second language. They are intended to combat illiteracy or to help recent immigrants learn or improve their English. Workforce development programs aim to help prepare people for specific types of jobs. Sometimes they replace traditional degrees, although they are also popular among people changing careers and among people who need continuing education to stay current in their field. The last category refers to courses that people take solely for personal interest. These are the “museum trip” classes that are often popular among retirees. (My mom takes a few and reports that the good ones are great fun. Among her favorites was one on flower arranging and one on Sid Caesar and Imogene Coke. At this point in her journey, she could worry about getting credit hours.)
For current purposes, I am focusing on the workforce development category.
As usual, readers rallied. I’ll share what they (y’all) have offered, along with some thoughts.
“Improvement”, “expansion” or “enrichment” (h/t Cathy Davidson). These are all better than “no credit”, but I wonder if they have a little too much baggage. “Enhancement” and “enrichment” either look like a supplement to a credits program or something closer to the classic trip to the museum. “Expansion” looks like the old “extension” programs.
“Workforce programs” don’t quite work either, because so many credit programs are for the workforce. For example, people in the nursing department would be really shocked to learn that their program is not intended to prepare nurses for paramedics. As for “certificate”, it is too broad. I have the same reaction to the term “career” programs.
“Courses of study” also sounds too close to the credit side. It also tends to involve a sequence, which is not always the case.
“Microcredentials” is not bad. It’s trendy, and the term is broad enough to include a wide range. It also implies that the degrees are “macro”, which is rather flattering. I see potential here.
“Diploma” programs strike me as likely to be confused with GED programs.
The “accelerated skills training” is pretty good. It’s quite specific — it brings to mind labor — and the term “accelerated” implies speed, which is crucial for working adults. Some object to the term “training”, but not me.
“FIST” (focused, intensive, short-term) has a certain panache, but it’s perhaps a bit pugilist. I’d rather appear welcoming than confrontational. This is not a training camp.
The question may seem quite mysterious, but it is important. I don’t want prospective students to be confused if they enroll in a non-credit program and get no credit. (It happened.) And the name should be transparent enough that people who don’t live in the world of higher education can understand it. They are the target audience, after all.
Thanks to my wise and worldly readers for helping me think about this one. It is probably telling that among the range of responses, no one defended “non-credit” as a category. On that, at least, we seem to have a consensus.