MicroMasters: The Next Big Thing After a Bachelor’s Degree?

Students weighing the pros and cons of attending graduate school often find themselves giving in to a grim reality: They have neither the money nor the time to invest in a full-blown master’s degree program or beyond. But edX, an online nonprofit founded by Harvard and MIT, may have a solution. EdX recently launched 19 […]

BY Terri Williams

MicroMasters: The Next Big Thing After a Bachelor’s Degree?

Students weighing the pros and cons of attending graduate school often find themselves giving in to a grim reality: They have neither the money nor the time to invest in a full-blown master’s degree program or beyond. But edX, an online nonprofit founded by Harvard and MIT, may have a solution.

EdX recently launched 19 “MicroMasters” programs to bridge the gap between job candidates and employees with a bachelor’s degree and companies that want employees with an advanced degree. While bachelor’s degrees traditionally have been considered gateways to successful careers, many employers now want more. Among recruiters seeking business grads, 88% want candidates with a graduate business degree, a recent survey found.

These sentiments aren’t limited to business grads. Research shows that in the past five years, 32% of employers across the board have increased their educational requirements, and 27% want a graduate degree for positions that previously required a bachelor’s degree.

The edX programs are designed to satisfy the needs of employers without unduly burdening students. Following are the inaugural MicroMasters programs:

Columbia University (ColumbiaX) Artificial Intelligence
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MITx) Supply Chain Management
Rochester Institute of Technology (RITx) Project Management
Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise (ThunderbirdX) International Business Management
University of Michigan (MichiganX) (1) User Experience (UX) Research and Design
(2) Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement
(3) Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research


Australian National University (ANUx) Evidence-Based Management
Curtin University (CurtinX) Human Rights
Galileo University (GalileoX) (1) e-Learning: crea actividades y contenidos para la enseñanza virtual (offered in Spanish)
(2) Professional Android Developer
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPolyUx) International Hospitality Management
Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMBx) (1) Business Management
(2) Entrepreneurship
Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPValenciaX) Liderazgo y trabajo en equipo en grupos de mejora continua (offered in Spanish
Université catholique de Louvain (LouvainX) (1) Management (offered in French)
(2) International Law
The University of Queensland, Australia (UQx) Leadership in Global Development
Wageningen University (WageningenX) Bio-based Sciences for Sustainability


GoodCall spoke with the CEO of edX and the provosts at two participating schools to find out more about these MicroMasters programs.

MicroMasters programs and what they entail

MicroMasters were designed to fill the education gap experienced by corporations, while providing a convenient career advancement path for learners. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, and a professor at MIT, tells GoodCall, Originally pioneered as a pilot program with MIT, the accelerated and flexible MicroMasters program is a first-of-its-kind, credit-backed credential with value to academic institutions and employers.”

The programs cover a variety of in-demand subjects. “The modular programs, which offer a credential with a pathway to credit, provide high-quality education from top universities to help learners launch or advance their career, or follow a path to an accelerated Master’s degree.”

The Rochester Institute of Technology offers a MicroMasters in project management. “This online Project Management sequence is a semester’s worth of work and consists of three online learning modules and a final capstone exam,” says Jeremy Haefner, RIT’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

The first modules begin in January, he says, and encompass 32 weeks of instruction during a 45-week timeframe. “The three modules in the RIT MicroMasters in project management include best practices for project management success, project management life cycle, and international project management,” Haefner explains.

The University of Michigan offers three MicroMasters programs. James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation, tells GoodCall, “A Michigan MicroMasters varies depending on the program, but what is universal is that they all offer global learners the opportunity to study master’s level courses from top-ranked graduate programs, advance their professional skills, and, upon admissions to those programs, accelerate time to degree through a unique learner-centric hybrid model.”

Advantages of MicroMasters for students and employers

The programs are advantageous to both students and employers. Agarwal lists five specific advantages:

  • Career-focused: The programs are validated by top companies.
  • Backed by credit: A MicroMasters credential equals 25-50 percent of a Master’s degree – 20-30 ECTS in Europe.
  • Speed: Each program is designed to take three to six months.
  • Affordable: Program costs range from $800 to $1,400.
  • Flexible: Programs are offered online multiple times per year and on-demand. Students proceed at their own pace.

“After earning a MicroMasters certificate, learners can immediately apply their new knowledge to further their career, or they can apply to an on campus program and put their MicroMasters credential toward completing a master’s degree,” Argawal says.

Because the programs are designed to meet the needs of major corporations such as GE and Walmart, Argawal says employers are confident that successful students have the education and training needed to meet their organization’s needs. “Adding MicroMasters to a resume/CV or LinkedIn profile signifies that a learner has gained exposure to a field at a strategic level, giving them the knowledge necessary to advance their career,” he says.

Some companies, rather than just looking for candidates with the desired skills, are taking the initiative to provide training for current employees. In these instances, DeVaney says, “Employers benefit from new flexible opportunities to connect their existing talent to top graduate programs designed to prepare learners for in-demand jobs and access to the growing pool of talented individuals prepared to make a positive impact in their organizations.”

In fact, Haefner says RIT consulted with edX and then decided to create the project management MicroMasters because those skills are in such high demand. “The Project Management Institute estimates the field is adding 1.5 million new jobs each year, and the MicroMasters is an advantage for RIT because it allows the university to engage edX’s 8 million learners and show them how RIT can help advance their education and their careers,” he says.

Future MicroMasters programs?

There also are plans to expand MicroMasters. “As the inaugural class of MicroMasters begins, more universities are expected to join edX in offering the courses, in addition to new MicroMasters in differing subjects from the already participating universities,” Agarwal says.

Michigan is among the universities planning on expanding offerings. DeVaney tells GoodCall the school is deeply committed to the model and the possibility of additional programs. “With the MicroMasters model, we see an opportunity to extend our reach in order to broaden participation, personalize learning, and prepare students to accelerate their careers in rapidly evolving fields,” he says.