Home Trends in Higher Education The Era of Credentialing

The Era of Credentialing


An article in last Friday’s New York Times by Laura Pappano entitled “The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s” highlights the fact that the master’s degree is now the fastest growing degree with the number awarded doubling since the 1980’s.  According to the author, nearly 2 people in 25 over the age of 25 now hold a master’s degree and that is the same proportion as the number of people who held a bachelor’s degree in 1960.

Debra W. Stewart, President of the Council of Graduate Schools, is quoted: “Several years ago, it became very clear to us that the master’s degree was moving very rapidly to become the entry degree in many professions.”  She further states that the degrees are not “generic” master’s degrees but are profession specific such as a Master’s degree in Supply Chain Management or a Master’s in Skeletal and Dental Bioarcheology.

Ms. Pappano interviews a number of individuals for their opinions as to whether or not bachelor’s degrees are being devalued or that employers are increasing qualifications.  The opinions seem to support a little of both.

The topic reminds me of an article published in the July/August 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Written by Thomas W. Malone, Robert Laubacher, and Tommy Johns, “The Big Idea: The Age of Hyper-specialization” takes the concept of credentialing one step further by stating that employers in the future will look increasingly for workers who have a very unique specialty.  Knowledge worker jobs will “atomize” into global networks of workers able to perform highly specialized tasks.  The authors provide an example of TopCoder, a software firm, that breaks up clients’ IT projects into small chunks that freelance developers compete for the best design, coding, systems integration, bug fixing, etc.  With a network of 300,000 developers world-wide, TopCoder is able to identify specialists and complete the projects for a fraction of the cost of a firm required to employ generalists and specialists.

Malone, Laubacher, and Johns further state that the ability of companies like TopCoder to increase the specialization of its workers will require that managers will have to increase their level of expertise in order to assign the work, manage the intermediaries, and verify that complex problems have been solved properly.  The authors propose that cultivating communities of specialized workers will likely be the key discipline of managers in the 21st century.

Predicting major changes in the employment base is no easy task and none of the authors of these articles attempt to quantify the impact of the trend that they are predicting.  Improving your qualifications, whether through the completion of a master’s degree or a specialized certificate, would be prudent if you can afford the time and the cost of obtaining those credentials.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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