Changes in Labor Statistics Signal Major Occupational Shifts and Impact to Higher Education Credentials

Posted on October 12, 2017 by Chris Chmura

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 12, 2017 – A joint research report released today by UPCEA and Chmura Economics & Analytics reveals a number of major occupational shifts in technology, healthcare, and other industries and their impact on higher education. The study, Occupational Shifts and Higher Education Credentials found a rise in alternative credentialing in the form of certificates, short-term courses, licensing, badges and micro-credentials among adult learners as well as traditional students.

The study, conducted by Jim Fong, director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy; Christine Chmura, founder of Chmura Economics & Analytics; and Patrick Clapp, economist at Chmura Economics & Analytics; explored how alternative credentials are an attractive substitute to a four-year degree in the changing economic landscape. The study also examined the generational and socioeconomic factors that have led to increased demand for alternative credentials.

“This labor analysis shows that our market is changing much quicker than many of us anticipated and that we have to acknowledge a stronger role for alternative credentialing,  said Jim Fong, Director of the UPCEA Center for Research and Strategy. “The degree is not dead, but colleges and universities need to develop educational programs that are in alignment with rapidly changing business needs and societal demographics.”

Among the study’s key findings:

  • The economy is shifting faster than the current educational model.
  • Alternative credentialing is an effective way to develop “middle skills” for today’s blue-collar jobs.
  • Two of the fastest growing fields in the next decade are predicted to be healthcare and professional services.
  • Today’s adult learners have different priorities and preferences than past generations—they want greater flexibility, shorter commitments, more options, and studies that bring value immediately.
  • For-profit/private sector entities staked out alternative credentialing early on, but the market is large enough to accommodate colleges and universities that wish to supply non-degree programming. They have the brand recognition, size, and resources to reach larger populations.

“With the national unemployment rate dipping below 4.5 percent, firms will seek creative ways to fill positions,” said Christine Chmura, founder of Chmura Economics & Analytics. “Credentials offered by higher education institutions can help fill these skill gaps.”

The study indicates the importance of alternative credentialing in the years to come. Adult learners are interested in more focused learning and limiting expenses. Jobs in healthcare, social assistance, virtual reality, drones and interpretation services, among others, are expected to rise over the next ten years. Higher education must be ready to adapt to the changing market of professional development.

The complete study, Occupational Shifts and Higher Education Credentials, is available here.



About Chmura Economics & Analytics

Chmura Economics and Analytics is a leader in providing the education, business and government sectors with economic and analytical consulting.  It also offers JobsEQ, an industry leading platform delivering labor market data with a priority on data governance. Chmura brings a research team approach to client assignments and products, providing a broad spectrum of expertise to solve problems and answer questions. Chmura’s economists conduct primary research, investigate prior art, and create custom forecasting and economic models. Its mathematicians and statisticians analyze primary and secondary data and ensure data integrity while data scientists develop technology solutions to deliver data and create visualizations to help tell the story of the data. Chmura’s strategic planners develop implementation plans to move from data-driven analysis to action plans.  For more, visit



UPCEA is the association for leaders in professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, UPCEA membership includes the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. For more than 100 years, the association has served its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between adult and nontraditional learners and public policy issues. Learn more at

This blog reflects Chmura staff assessments and opinions with the information available at the time the blog was written.