I recently served on a panel at a meeting organized by the California Higher Education Innovation Council to look at "Alternative Credentials and Unbundling the Degree: Meeting Employer Needs or Short-Circuiting Proven Approaches?" Our panel was challenged beforehand by its moderator, Ryan Craig, to imagine how conditions had to change over the next decade in order for alternative credentialing ("e.g. nanodegrees and badges" according to the meeting invitation) to become a major force in higher education. I will make no attempt to review the many arguments advanced on this subject at the meeting, but simply describe some of my own thoughts (however tentative) that were stimulated by this challenge.
There are obviously three broad constituencies interested in questions of higher education credentialing: students, government, and employers. My belief is that the most important of these in determining whether alternative credentialing takes hold will be employers: if employers find it truly useful, most students will enthusiastically sign on, and government will see little reason to block something that employers and students find to be of real value.