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Important Changes to Our Diploma Pathways

Originally published at:

We are in the process of re-tooling our diploma pathways program. Specifically, we are changing terminology to eliminate “diploma” and “major” and “minor”. Until we are ready to unveil the re-vamped information, our page at will redirect visitors to this blog post.

Here is the most important thing to note: this program is not disappearing. You still have the “diploma” certificates you have earned, but we have changed the wording on the issued certificates to eliminate the word “diploma”… If you are currently working toward a pathway certificate, you should absolutely continue to do so.

In the interest of complete transparency, the issue is the word “diploma”. The Higher Education Licensing Commission (HELC) of the District of Columbia (where we are based) has informed us that our use of the word “diploma” is potentially misleading to students and must be changed.

Our talks with HELC have been entirely positive and we are making these changes quickly to show good faith with the regulations that our city has in place to protect students.

So far, in addition to taking down the Diploma Pathways page and removing other references, we have changed the templates of the diplomas to use the word “certificate” rather than “diploma”. This is a temporary change; in the coming days, we will:

  • Determine a different word or phrase to replace our use of the word "diploma"
  • Come up with different words or phrases to describe "majors" and "minors" in both legacy and current course pathways

Once again, please know that we love and intend to expand upon our course pathways formerly known as “diploma pathways”. The words have changed, but the facts of what students have accomplished or intend to accomplish remain the same. The issue is terminology and we simply have to make these changes in order to keep providing this program to our students.

I think that’s a smart change. Word choice is important, especially in the muddy area of education credentials.

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no not all are happy because you really don’t any idea how this diploma you have remove was and is helping people, its not all who can manage to pay for diplomas out there to other school whilst they found saylor academy help site that can change there future just by completing some couples of course and earn a diploma
and besides its there backbone to change their life’s and now you eliminated it out were do you think they will get help or opportunity from?

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you are only caring for yourself not what people are finding so helpful

think from outside as well not only from inside

The word “diploma” is not misleading the students, It motivates the student to reach each goal, it gives us hope. The Higher Education Licensing Commission (HELC) of the District of Columbia leading us from “free” to “fee”…

Diploma before: dreams come true, Now: “puff” gone.
Diploma is my dream goal, pure trophy on my wall, my true motivation to study hard.

i have an idea about the change. how about a word between diploma and degree.

Is there a way to get to the list of courses in the liberal arts, computer science, etc, tracks? My bookmarks to them appear to no longer work. Were they (re)moved as part of this change?

Yes, we took them down so that we could make changes, but they will be back up quite soon and we will set the old link to redirect to the new one – we have a new draft of the page nearly ready.


I think we were quite careful in using the word “diploma” and avoiding the suggestion that ours would be a formal credential from an accredited institution. We have been careful about that from the start. I agree that the word has a strong motivational effect and carries a lot of meaning packaged withing that is very difficult to replicate. Unfortunately, it is because of those same qualities that we are now asked not to use the word.

I take your meaning here to be that, by reserving the word “diploma” primarily for accredited, fee-charging institutions (or similar types of more formal/certified programs), the regulatory agencies undermine the value of free programs like ours and thereby encourage students, indirectly, to enter paid programs. That is a reasonable argument.

Even most major MOOC providers, though, have moved toward paid certificates, wholly aside from any use of the word “diploma”. We are committed to keeping our courses and certificates free.


We just about have our wording down, but we’re always open to new suggestions!

The frustration we face is that the most appropriate, descriptive words are the ones we can’t use, while alternatives seem kludgy, awkward, or simply generic.

Gosh, maybe “meta-certificate” was the right word after all…

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@seanconnor: Instead of “meta-certificate”, have you considered / are you considering the wording “Pathway Certficate?

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Sorry sir Seanconnor for my comment its just I feel so bad seeing my diploma demoted into certificate.

But now I already moved on for a change and I’m taking computer science with my other account, waiting for “Macro Certificate Pathway” track.

Just a suggestion is it possible for saylor academy to have an icon in linkedin education portion. It is cool to be recognized by linkedin as an educational institution.

I believe we had rejected “pathways”, but I do not recall why, unless we thought it would conflict with “degree pathways” – but the compound “certificate pathways” could work.

No apologies necessary, but thank you! I certainly do not intend to rebuke or invalidate your thoughts; I am just “thinking aloud” in my reply to your earlier comments – offering some of our reasons, my own thoughts, etc.

I think I have looked at that previously, but I will take a look again. It used to be, if I recall correctly, that it was necessary to have a “.edu” domain, but then I noticed some providers that show up in the education portion are not .edu organizations.

[INSTANT UPDATE:] I have just filed a ticket with LinkedIn to inquire about this.

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I sympathize with your disappointment. Our blog post might not make it clear, but this was a legal matter that could have resulted in serious and costly consequences that would have risked our existence as an organization. By making this change voluntarily and in a spirit of cooperation, we avoided that risk and preserve our ability to provide courses and credentials.

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On a much broader topic, the pace of change for alternative and informal credentials to develop value is maddeningly slow, across the education “industry”.

A degree from an accredited school or a certification from some long-standing professional association still has tremendous value as a “signifier”, an indicator of how knowledgeable and competent a job applicant is likely to be.

At the same time, we see (certainly in the U.S. news) that formal degree programs are not necessarily producing students ready to step into the available jobs.

There is a paradox here. To show that alternative credentials have value, employers must be convinced that the credentials adequately signify positive traits a potential employee brings to a job. But to evaluate those traits, an employer must first hire an employee. The trouble is that employers would still prefer to rely on more traditional credentials in the hiring process.

I do believe that employer attitudes toward non-traditional credentials are changing, and that traditional schools are increasingly finding ways to accommodate non-traditional students. But the latter trend is cold comfort to those seeking a true alternative to a traditional degree program.

Personally, I do wish we could use the word diploma, but I know that there are flaws in that approach. The word “diploma” may have its greatest value to the student if employers believe that it is a more traditional kind of credential. What happens if the employer discovers that we are not a traditional, accredited educator? Although the regulations exist to protect students from being victimized by fraudulent organizations (and we have always been careful and clear with our students – that is, the law isn’t really trying to protect students from us), the regulations also serve to protect applicants from confused and disappointed employers. Not that I need to make traditional institutions’ case for them!

I am conflicted here. I know any credential is a powerful motivator, even when it is “just” a certificate, more so when it is a “diploma”, enormously so when it is a “degree”. But I also strongly feel that the student best serves their own best interests when knowledge and skills equal or exceed credentials as motivating factors. Finding additional ways to document and demonstrate knowledge and skills is crucial, as is insisting, whenever feasible, that employers look at more than just the first few lines of a resume in making a decision whether to bring someone in for an interview.

Any significant educational experience (traditional or otherwise) works best, I believe, when it prepares a student to continue to learn and develop on their own. “All education is self-education”, as it has been said. My hope would be that certificates, diplomas, and degrees become equally less relevant, or at any rate less dominant, as badges of learning.

In short: I wish the difference between “diploma” and “certificate” did not matter at all. I realize that, in many ways, it does.

But there is a silver lining, perhaps: assume that a potential employer knows or will discover that Saylor Academy is not a formal, accredited education provider. I would encourage anyone to be forthcoming about that and to assert the value of what they have learned as actively and creatively as possible.


dear tony:

I just signed for education free. there are sights such as alison that offer diplomas they are free but you have to pay for the actual diploma.

dear sean:

thanks for all of your options. in other countries they use diploma all the time when you complete a series of courses. Meta-certificates to be honest does not sound good either. Program of completion might work possibly.
maybe you guys can go for accreditation at some point.

thanks for showing myself. i may look more into it. I was also going to suggest to you a website called alison as. i am doing a diploma on mass media and it actually it is through the saylor foundation.