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October 19, 2020

BYU-Pathway’s Degree Structure: The Success Behind Certificates

Learn more about how BYU-Pathway's certificate-first approach is accelerating the value of education

A new approach to help students finish their education

Completing a degree is challenging. For some students, overcoming that challenge can seem impossible. Did you know that 90% of students in the lowest income quartile do not finish their degree within six years?1 Many of these students never reach their senior year, when their most valuable career-focused courses are taught.2 

BYU-Pathway Worldwide wanted to do something about that. The goal: to significantly increase completion rates, particularly among students in non-traditional circumstances. 

BYU-Pathway, in partnership with BYU-Idaho, evaluated their programs closely to improve outcomes for those students who are at higher risk of not completing a degree. Instead of the traditional university degree model that begins with general education courses, BYU-Pathway began designing a degree structure that allows students to take courses in their desired field of study right from the start. The solution was the certificate-first approach.

How it works

BYU-Pathway’s certificate-first approach is an exciting change that is transforming higher education. Certificates are typically made up of just five courses and are a great way to develop immediate job skills and increase earning potential while laying the foundation for a degree.

As students continue their education, additional certificates and an associate degree are added, “stacking” into a bachelor’s degree — so no credits are ever wasted! Because a certificate can be completed in one year or less, students can see the value of their education accelerate immediately as they develop job skills and lay the foundation for a degree. 

Here’s how it works: Students begin by earning their first certificate. After the first certificate, an associate degree is built from a second certificate in addition to some general education and elective courses. After that, students can earn a bachelor’s degree with a third certificate and more general education and elective courses.

This approach helps students not only earn a bachelor’s degree, but three certificates, an associate degree, and a host of employable skills along the way too!

“This certificate-first approach will help solve some of the inequity in higher education,” said BYU-Pathway President Clark Gilbert.

Let’s talk numbers

Research shows that 90% of the value (i.e. increased income, improved employment) of a regular university degree doesn’t come until the senior year, after general education classes.3 So, in higher education today, nearly all the most at-risk students are left behind, accumulating debt but leaving without a degree or clear marketable skills. However, the certificate-first approach provides a different outcome: 

  • Currently, 70% of BYU-Pathway students increase their earning potential after they earn their first skills-based certificate in just one year.4 

Because certificates are achievable milestones that motivate students to finish, students are also significantly more likely to finish a bachelor’s degree after completing their first certificate.

The success of the certificate-first approach

Students around the world report receiving job promotions after completing BYU-Pathway Worldwide’s PathwayConnect program, again once they finish their first certificate, and again after finishing their online degree program. 

Like so many other students who hope and pray for improved employment opportunities, Raul Hidalgo, a graduate from Mexico, started PathwayConnect after struggling to find steady work. After completing the one-year program, he immediately began pursuing certificates that would lead to increased employment opportunities. 

Raul saw the benefits of an education even before graduation. He said, “I received several promotions at my work. I have been promoted again and again, and I am now studying to become a judge — something I always dreamed of doing!” He continued, “I know that the Lord has given me the resources to support my family and to pay my tuition as I have continued my education.”

By 2016, Raul not only earned a bachelor’s degree in business management but also two certificates in basic accounting and entrepreneurship and an associate degree in general studies.

Students all over the world are seeing similar opportunities become available to them as they earn certificates on their way to a bachelor’s degree. Raul’s experience is a great example of what students are experiencing as a result of this certificate-first approach. This can be your experience too!

Raul with his wife and daughter and BYU-Pathway President Clark Gilbert

Begin your certificate-first experience

Want a flexible, customizable, low-cost path to complete your bachelor’s degree? Looking to get immediate value out of your education? Learn more about the opportunities available to you through BYU-Pathway Worldwide today at byupathway.org/degrees.

1.^ Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States (2016), 65, pellinstitute.org
2.^ Bryan Caplan, The Case Against Education (2018)
3.^ IBID
4.^ Krista Tripodi, “Redesigning the University Degree,” blog.pathwaynewsroom.org 

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