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Are online certifications a threat to college degrees?

By Kara Scully

We’ve all heard the famed Musk quotes, “College is basically for fun and to prove that you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning,” and “you can learn anything you want for free”. Over the summer, Vidlet has been busy facilitating studies for colleges and universities across the country, speaking at length about the state of education through covid, a massive rise in costs, and the prevalence of alternative online learning.

Insights from our interviews and surveys were consistent: once Covid hit, many had a realization that they are paying thousands of dollars for an education that seems

more akin to Musk’s vision. A format where education was suddenly performed in isolation, through a screen, but with the same costs as before.

Our initial findings saw a turn from students indicating that many were considering a switch from in-person, traditional college to online certifications, and the numbers don’t lie. According to CNBC, college enrollment dropped 25% during the pandemic, a rapid sink from normal numbers.

At the same time, short-term, online credentials showed a spike in completion rates, driving the narrative that traditional college might be on its way out. There are obviously countless narratives as to the other aspects of college, be it social growth, individualism, teamwork, et cetera. But students in the digital age do have a daunting choice to make, and for many the mounting costs of college are just not worth it anymore (the current federal student loan debt is estimated to be over $1.5 trillion).

Only time will tell when it comes to the changing landscape of online certifications vs. degrees, and based on our data we know one thing is for sure: colleges need to find ways to adapt, and adapt soon, before their worth is swept away in the changing digital world.

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