Build On What You Have: Colleges That Offer Stackable Credentials for Transfers

stackable credentials

The higher education landscape has rapidly evolved in the last ten years. Two-year community/technical and four-year colleges have become more inclusive and responsive to learners’ diverse needs.

Stackable credentials are one of the most popular pathways to career and skill development today. If you’re looking for an affordable way to earn college credits, this post is for you.

What are stackable credentials?

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Stackable credentials are indeed game-changers. They give you a way to build your qualifications step by step. Instead of jumping straight into a costly bachelor’s degree, you can start with smaller, more affordable certificates or diplomas.

What Are Stackable Credentials?

The US Department of Labor defines stackable certificates as a series of certifications that can be earned gradually over time. This helps professionals advance in a career path. There are two main reasons why stackable certificates are important:

  1. They help you build skills and qualifications step-by-step for career progression. You can also use them toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
  2. You can use them to reskill or upgrade your current skills. This is important as your job responsibilities grow or change.

Let’s talk about their main benefits and why you should consider them.

They’re affordable.

Affordable microcredentials offer significant financial benefits to both students and professionals. They cost much less per credit than traditional programs. This affordability has become even more crucial with today’s rapid tuition cost increase.

They enhance employability.

It’s no secret that having just a bachelor’s or master’s degree isn’t always enough to stand out in the job market. Companies want to see extra skills and soft skills on resumes.

Having training that your competitors lack will set you apart. Additional credentials show you’re committed to understanding and excelling in the field, giving you an edge in today’s competitive market.

In many industries, the skills needed are always changing. Stacked credentials help workers learn new skills faster and meet these changing demands better.

They offer a quicker way to skill advancement.

Microcredentials are designed to be completed in a matter of months, allowing you to improve your skills faster. This means you get to spend less time in school and focus more on gaining practical knowledge directly relevant to your career goals.

Plus, they’re frequently developed in collaboration with industry partners. They focus on the latest trends and skills demanded by employers.

Stackable credentials allow students to develop competency at a low cost. Plus, they don’t require much time, with many lasting between a few months to a year. They are a viable option for students who want to develop their skills without breaking the bank.

Stackable credentials in higher education are like building blocks that fit together. Each one adds to what you already have. It’s a flexible way to get skills and qualifications that employers value.

Credential stacking can be done in three primary ways:

  1. Vertical Stacking

It involves earning credentials sequentially, starting with a diploma or bachelor’s degree and then advancing to a master’s or PhD. Students begin with the most basic and work up to the most recent and sophisticated.

  1. Horizontal Stacking

This stacking method focuses entirely on the subject and developing expertise. Students can take courses in any order, which some see as unstructured stacking. It’s particularly popular in IT and technology careers.

  1. Hybrid Stacking

From the name itself, hybrid is a combination of vertical and horizontal stacking. It allows learners to accumulate credentials sequentially and in specific subject areas. This is the most flexible approach. It helps students develop field-focused expertise while completing a degree.

How Stackable Credentials Work for Transfer Students

These credentials are beneficial for everyone. However, they can be more beneficial to transfer students. Why?

Transfer students face different, sometimes even more complex, problems. Stackable certificates can be of great help to them in seamlessly integrating into new programs or institutions. Stackable credentials recognize the skills and knowledge they have already gained in the past. This helps them skip repetitive classes and concentrate on furthering their education.

Examples of credentials include:

  • IC – Industry Certification: A credential from an industry-recognized third-party certifying entity.
  • CTC – Career Technical Certificate: A credential awarded based on clock hours for job preparation.
  • CCC – College Credit Certificate: A credential with a specific job skill set related to an AS degree.
  • AS – Associate in Science Degree: A credential with general education and career-specific college credit courses.
  • ATC – Advanced Technical Certificate: A credential to upgrade skills after earning an AS degree.
  • BS – Bachelor Degrees: Stackable degrees obtained after an Associate degree.

Here are three example pathways to design stackable credentials using different methods:


A student might start with a nursing assistant certificate program and then pass the state exam to become a certified nursing assistant. Later on, they pursue an associate’s and bachelor’s degree in nursing. Students systematically enhance their knowledge and skills throughout this academic journey, progressively preparing for a targeted career path.


Suppose a transfer student has completed Computer Science and Mathematics courses at their previous institution. At the new institution, they may stack credentials horizontally by taking advanced Artificial Intelligence and Data Science courses. This method allows them to broaden their skill set across related disciplines without strictly following a traditional academic progression.

In a Hybrid Way

A transfer student could begin by completing a diploma in Graphic Design and then pursue specialized certificates in Web Development and User Experience (UX) Design. This pathway combines sequential learning within a specific field (vertical) with the flexibility to gain additional skills in related areas (horizontal), creating a well-rounded expertise.

Cost-Effective Pathways

Many think that earning stackable credentials will cost the same as traditionally earning credentials. While this might be true, stackable certificate programs and degrees can save more time and cost.

Traditional degrees require you to pay hefty amounts for tuition and living expenses upfront. This method will also demand years of your attention. On the other hand, stackable credentials will allow you to invest incrementally. You can start with short-term courses or certificates that are more affordable and build on them as your budget allows.

Moreover, many stackable certificates are countable in degree programs. You can actually use them as transfer credits. And compared to traditional per-credit-hour costs, stackable certificate hours are cheaper.

Traditional Degree PathCredential Stacking
Time Commitment– Requires several years of full-time study– Offers flexibility in scheduling and pace
– Can be completed faster
Transferability– Credits earned are generally specific.
– May not transfer easily
– Often count towards higher degrees
– Credits are easily transferable
Cost EfficiencyHigher overall cost– Lower cost
– Gradual payments
FocusBroad field knowledge and theoretical foundationFocus on specific skills and competencies
Job Market AlignmentProvides comprehensive education but may lag behind industry trendsOffers current, industry-aligned skills with immediate applicability

5 Colleges Offering Stackable Credentials

Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College offers a flexible pathway to career success through stackable credentials. Students can quickly enter the workforce with short-term certificates achievable in 3-9 months. These certificates can then be stacked into technical certificates within a year, paving the way for higher-paying jobs or continued education toward an associate degree.

After two years, students earn an affordable associate degree, preparing them for new careers or promotions. Transferring credits to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree expands opportunities further.

St. Louis Community College

St. Louis Community College (STLCC) offers diverse stackable certificate programs designed to accelerate career growth and meet industry demands. Their offerings include

  • Automotive Technology (CS)
  • Cisco Networking Academy: CCNA (CS)
  • Computer Accounting Technology (CS)
  • Computer-Aided Design (CS)
  • Diesel Technology (CS)
  • Engineering Technology (AAS)
  • IT Help Desk/End User Support (CS)
  • Accelerated IT Help Desk/End User Support CompTIA A+ Industry Certificate
  • Life Science Lab Assistant (CS)
  • Precision Machining Technology (CS)
  • Web Developer (CS)

Alamo Colleges District

Alamo Colleges offers various stackable credentials. These include:

  • Occupational Skills Awards
  • Enhanced Skills Certificates
  • Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates
  • Associate Degrees

Each credential can be applied strategically to further certifications or degrees. They’ll provide you with a customizable approach to education that aligns with your career aspirations.

Penn State World Campus

Penn State is one of the largest four-year universities with multiple stackable credential programs. Here’s a list of their degree programs with stackable credentials:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Data Analytics Base Program
  • Engineering Management
  • Human Resources and Employment Relations
  • Information Science
  • Psychology of Leadership
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Engineering

CSU Global

CSU Global’s stackable credentials offer a flexible pathway to higher education. You can pursue for-credit-focused certificate programs of 4-6 courses. After earning them, you can transfer those credits to a full degree program whenever you’re ready.


College is expensive. It’s important to be strategic about your educational choices.

Stackable credentials are one of the best transfer student pathways. These programs allow students to build upon existing credits and integrate into new academic programs or institutions. They are a cost-effective and practical alternative to traditional degree paths. They’re particularly advantageous for transfer students navigating complex credit transfer processes and seeking flexible educational options.