Alternative Credentials and the Future of Higher Education

Paul Fain, Dr. Richard Novak, and Shadee Barkan
Paul Fain, Dr. Richard Novak, and Shadee Barkan

In 2015, Rutgers University took a bold step into the future of education by becoming Trilogy’s first university partner. At the time, no other university offered anything like a coding bootcamp. But Rutgers—and specifically the university’s visionary Vice President for Continuing Studies and Distance Education, Dr. Richard Novak—recognized that a partnership model would enable Rutgers to move quickly to build an impactful program that fulfilled a critical need.

On Tuesday, at Inside Higher Ed’s Future of Higher Ed conference in Baltimore, Dr. Novak was joined by Trilogy’s Chief Partner and Development Officer, Shadee Barkan, as well as Inside Higher Ed News Editor Paul Fain, the host of the event. The trio spoke about alternative credentials and emerging pathways between education and work. 

The question facing universities nowadays is not whether to offer alternative credentials but how. The Rutgers bootcamp programs have graduated more than 1,000 diverse students, 30 percent of whom are women. More than 45 top universities have joined the Trilogy network, bringing intensive skills training to communities across the globe, including nearly every major city in the United States. 

Following 2U’s recent acquisition of Trilogy, the workforce accelerator joined an even larger network of partners that are redefining the role of universities to bridge the skills gap between learners who require continuous training and education throughout their lives and companies that must align employee skills with current and future business challenges in order to remain competitive.

Here are some key takeaways from the panel:

  • The skills needed for today’s workforce are changing at a rapid pace. Universities must move more quickly to address the demand for lifelong learning.
  • By partnering with Trilogy, Rutgers was able to respond clearly to the needs of learners and to scale quickly in a way that the university couldn’t have accomplished alone. 
  • Speed to market was key for Rutgers. The university first met with Trilogy in May 2015, and less than 6 months later it had its first bootcamp. Rutgers now boasts over 1,000 bootcamp graduates.
  • Universities must be responsive to demand. The Rutgers partnership with Trilogy has allowed the university to expand to a demand model. 
  • Universities and educational partners must break down the barrier between credit and noncredit courses to better serve lifelong learners. 
  • Universities must meet learners where they are in their careers with a continuum of educational offerings (e.g., short courses, bootcamps, professional certificates, grad and undergrad degrees). 
  • Many prominent tech employers, including Apple and Amazon, have hired graduates of Trilogy-powered bootcamps.
  • Group projects completed in the bootcamp help students develop soft skills (e.g., communication, team work, leadership) as well as the technical skills that employers are looking for. 
  • Trilogy-powered bootcamps give students the opportunity to create work products that lead to new jobs or career advancement.


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