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Aspiring Diploma Mills Don’t Stop for Pandemics

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Abstract

In this chapter, we argue that, driven by the threat of eroding enrollments and guided by perverse college ranking incentives, academic management executives capitalized on pandemic upheavals and uncertainty by adding market-driven academic programs, most commonly masters’ degrees, and pushing for other market-driven changes, such as microcredentialing as tactics to capture new sources of revenue. In doing so, they continued to weaken shared governance and the power of faculty. Additionally, they further distorted the values of the academy through a reemergence of vocationalism that looks similar to their for-profit college counterparts.KeywordsEroding enrollmentsCollege ranking incentivesAcademic management executivesMarket-driven academic programsShared governance

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As the value of a university degree plummets, the popularity of the digital microcredential has soared. Similar to recent calls for the early adoption of Blockchain technology, the so-called ‘microcredentialing craze’ could be no more than a fad, marketing hype, or another case of ‘learning innovation theater.’ Alternatively, the introduction of these compact skills- and competency-based online certificate programs might augur the arrival of a legitimate successor to the four-year university diploma. The thesis of this article is that the craze for microcredentialing reflects (1) administrative urgency to unbundle higher education curricula and degree programs for greater efficiency and profitability and (2) a renascent movement among industry and higher education leaders to reorient the university curriculum towards vocational training.
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