“Micro-credential” is a growing buzzword in higher education.

Micro-credentialing is where students gain skill sets in a focused area and receive a credential after having completed a small number of courses. The credentials have names such as “digital badges,” “certificate” and the very 21st century sounding “nano-degree.” Various versions of these credentials can be earned through larger business entities, universities and colleges, and through web-based learning platforms.

The micro-credential can be a great way to earn while you learn. In fact, the micro-credential movement grew from business entities that have a real (or perceived) workforce skill gap, where jobs are left unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants. For example, one need only visit Google’s job board to notice Google has thousands of IT jobs to fill given a shortage of qualified applicants.

Businesses are able to close skill gaps in their workforce by offering competency based micro-credentials to their employees. The employees benefit too, by being able to continue working as they gain a credential that can help further or change their career path.

While employers started the micro-credential movement, in the last decade or so it’s the universities and colleges that have made the biggest strides. A recent College Board report on Educational Attainment highlights this trend by noting that between 2002 and 2012 there’s been a 92 percent increase in certificates awarded at universities and colleges. About 550,000 certificates were awarded in 2002 while more than 1.1 million were awarded in 2012.

With colleges and university having gained micro-credential momentum, it’ll be interesting to see to whether the momentum will eventually translate into an increase in college credit bearing partnerships between large employers and institutions of higher education.

Here’s five compelling reasons why universities and colleges have become a “go to” resource for the certificate micro-credential:

• Most universities and colleges are regionally accredited, and certificates earned from a regionally accredited institution are more likely to be viewed as credible by employers.

• Pursuing a certificates can be a great way to begin an academic career because in a university setting certificates are a “stackable” credential, meaning the course credits earned can be applied later toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

• Most certificates can take a year or less to complete. Since earning a certificate takes less time and costs less than earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, a certificate can be used sooner for employment purposes. This can help pave the way to further study toward the next higher credential.

• Certificates are also popular with working adults who already have a degree but want to add a credential to further, or refresh their career. For example, a person who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing 20 years ago may wish to earn a certificate in social media to strengthen their career skills portfolio.

• In many instances most or all of the certificate courses can be completed online, so the flexibility matches the flexibility offered through web-based learning platforms.

The rise of micro-credentials is a positive trend, one that points to a bright future of increased access to education, increased affordability, increased partnerships between employers and higher education, and the possibility of more personalized learning.