HERA Wisconsin secures $1.5 million to develop new skills-based microcredential programs

Federal funding to boost collaboration among 17 Southeastern Wisconsin higher education institutions to meet upskilling needs in high-demand careers

MILWAUKEE (April 17, 2024) – The Higher Education Regional Alliance of Wisconsin (HERA) recently secured $1.5 million in federal funding to accelerate the development and implementation of new microcredential programs, helping employees throughout Southeastern Wisconsin learn new skills to advance in high-demand careers.

This funding will allow HERA, an alliance of 17 Southeastern Wisconsin higher education institutions and partners, to develop at least 20 new priority microcredentials to serve 400-plus users during a one-year pilot phase in 2025 — with the potential to expand the number of course offerings and students served in the future.

HERA and its member institutions will focus these efforts on specific skills in high-demand, high-impact fields that are experiencing talent shortages in the region. Based on labor market data and input from employers, HERA identified priority areas such as information technology, including artificial intelligence and data analytics; health care; business; and education.

The funding comes through a Congressional Directed Spending allocation with the support of Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“HERA was founded with a belief that our region’s higher education institutions can accomplish more together than any one institution could do alone. Today, that belief in the power of collaboration has led to a significant milestone: a federal-level investment that will greatly increase our capacity to develop new microcredentials that support career advancement and economic growth in Southeastern Wisconsin,” said Dr. Vicki Martin, chair of HERA and president of Milwaukee Area Technical College. “By developing flexible and affordable education options with a focus on high-demand, high-impact career fields, we will help more people in our region advance their careers.”

Microcredentials are an emerging trend in higher education. Often delivered online with flexible scheduling, these programs focus the educational expertise of academic institutions into shorter, stackable, skills-based non-degree credentials. A microcredential course can typically be completed in 2-4 months.

Microcredentials are particularly relevant to current employees who are looking to learn new skills and advance their careers but are unable to return to school on a full-time basis. And they can greatly benefit employers, who must constantly train workers to meet the ever-changing challenges of today’s workplace to remain competitive.

This new funding will amplify innovative work that already is happening at HERA institutions and will draw on the expertise that can be found throughout the 17 HERA institutions. Since 2021, the number of such non-degree credentials awarded by HERA institutions has grown by more than 36%. Last year, HERA launched a microcredential portal that brings together all offerings from HERA members – providing a strong starting point for the work to come.

The cost to develop new courses has been one of the main factors limiting additional expansion of microcredential offerings by HERA institutions. The additional funding will accelerate development of new microcredentials at HERA institutions, with HERA increasing its role as a “one-stop shop” for engaging with employers to further identify the greatest needs for additional skills and maintaining a centralized portal for users.

There will be modest course fees for users, and opportunities for employers and industries to fund additional microcredentials with more customized content.

“To maintain their competitive edge in a race that has no finish line, Southeastern Wisconsin companies must ensure that their employees acquire the skills they need to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” said Joel Brennan, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and a member of HERA’s steering committee. “Microcredentials are one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to accomplish this, and HERA and its member institutions are best positioned to lead the way. On behalf of our region’s employers, we thank Senator Baldwin and the Appropriations Committee for recognizing this need and supporting it with a significant investment.”

About the Higher Education Regional Alliance

The Higher Education Regional Alliance (HERA) is a talent producing collaboration among 17 Southeastern Wisconsin public and private, two- and four-year colleges and universities and a network of partner organizations. We are dedicated to closing achievement gaps and educating students today to become an innovative and nimble workforce that meets the needs of the region’s industries tomorrow. This challenge is too large for any one university or college to solve alone, so we are working together. We know that education impacts more than individual lives; it can change the trajectory of our entire region. For more information, please visit herawisconsin.org.