Postsecondary-offered Microcredentials in Ontario: What does the Evidence Tell Us?

Postsecondary-offered Microcredentials in Ontario: What does the Evidence Tell Us? was written by Jackie Pichette and Rachel Courts, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Microcredentials may help upskill Ontarians but show less promise as an entry point to comprehensive (re)training.

A new review by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) offers insight into how microcredentials are meeting the evolving needs of today’s learners in the province. Ontario established itself early as a leader in the microcredential space; the province made significant investments in program development and awareness building, and pursued a framework for quality assurance. While data gaps preclude a full and complete investigation, the information available suggests that, in Ontario, microcredentials are best suited to upskilling, that is, supplementing adult learners’ skills and experience with focused training. There is less promise for microcredentials as a gateway into traditional postsecondary education through progressive stacking.

For this review, HEQCO considers evidence of supply, demand and outcomes to inform institutional planning and government strategy for Ontario’s postsecondary education microcredential programming. The review focuses on microcredentials offered by publicly assisted postsecondary institutions while acknowledging the range of other providers operating in this space. It also draws from 16 interviews with representatives from Ontario institutions, research and quality assurance organizations, and governments and institutions from outside of the province.

The findings of HEQCO’s 2021 report on microcredentials are reaffirmed here: these short, focused credentials work best as a complement to postsecondary credentials (e.g. degrees and diplomas). The authors note that even when stacked progressively, microcredentials do not appear to facilitate more equitable postsecondary access than traditional degrees, nor do they achieve the same economic returns. The review’s findings also indicate that microcredentials are not well suited to comprehensive reskilling for workers changing industries. Interventions such as wraparound support services or competency-based education programs may be better suited to addressing these types of demands.

The report offers the following recommendations for improving the microcredential strategy in Ontario:

  • Gather Evidence
    • Microcredentials Data: By collecting data on supply, demand and outcomes, Ontario institutions and government can ensure microcredential funding is optimized to meet the needs of various groups of learners.
    • System-level Data: Tracking student pathways to and through the postsecondary system and labour market would enable government and education providers to explore strategies for serving students at all stages of a lifelong learning journey. This approach may include — but is not limited to — microcredentials.
  • Offer a transparent strategy focused on upskilling: Clear objectives related to microcredentials would help the sector design programs that achieve shared goals and ensure that limited education funds are used most effectively.