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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs in the U.S., leading many students to rethink their educational paths. As of last December, thirty-six percent of would-be students dropped their plans to attend college or university. While most colleges and universities have seen their undergraduate enrollment numbers drop dramatically, short-term college programs that provide technical, workplace skills have garnered increased interest for those seeking a quicker way to gain an advantage in an uncertain job market.

According to PBS NewsHour, short-term programs that offer certificates and credentials have provided a more affordable, flexible route for students looking to develop technical skills than increasingly expensive traditional four-year degree programs. One-third of American adults believe they will need more education to replace potentially lost jobs. For low-income workers who bear the brunt of job losses in 2020, traditional degree programs are too costly, time-consuming, and general to develop the workplace skills they need right now. Universities and community colleges worked to develop short-term educational programs further before the pandemic hit the U.S. early last year. Public, private, and corporate institutions have invested more into these credential and certificate programs to serve best all students, especially those with only a high school degree or equivalent. Students who must work full-time to support themselves or their families often cannot afford to spend four or more years earning a bachelor’s degree. For students with responsibilities like these, earning a certificate or credential in a matter of months is an attractive alternative that allows them to forgo coursework required for undergraduate students but does not translate into readily applied technical skills. Moreover, with most college programs happening online, traditional undergraduate programs no longer seem worth the exorbitant long-term enrollment costs.

With all of their appeal, will short-term college programs become the new norm for higher education? It seems reasonable to predict that students and prospective students in the U.S. will see more, not less, specialized short-term opportunities like these in higher education. Companies like Amazon and Google have created short-term certificate programs designed to develop skills for potential employees seeking a start to their career. As more industries get on board, expect to see higher education options like these in the future.