Six states join NSC’s postsecondary policy academy

By Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, July 15, 2020

More than ever before, postsecondary education and training has become essential to the nation’s economic mobility and growth. State leaders have recognized the critical importance of postsecondary attainment in meeting equity and economic goals. Credentials are a key component of state postsecondary attainment goals and COVID-19 responses, helping workers obtain better jobs and serving to reconnect them to further postsecondary education and training opportunities.

In light of this, National Skills Coalition has been working with six state teams as part of our 2020-2021 Quality Postsecondary Credentials State Policy Academy: Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia. Through the Academy, state agency teams will work together to advance a high-quality postsecondary skills strategy so more residents can attain quality credentials.

As part of the academy, which runs through summer 2021, state agencies commit to:

  1. Define quality non-degree credentials
  2. develop a policy agenda to increase the number of residents with quality credentials, and
  3. develop data policies to support such efforts.

The state teams are led by a Governor’s education and/or workforce policy advisor, the state higher education agency leader, and the labor or workforce agency leader, with membership drawn from agency leaders representing economic development, human services, elementary and secondary education, and the state community and technical college system. Some states also include external stakeholders, including policy advocates from SkillSPAN, NSC’s network of nonpartisan state coalitions expanding skills training for people through state policy changes.

Teams will work together along with ongoing support from NSC and will have opportunities to learn from subject matter experts and practitioner experts and participate in peer-to-peer learning.

The policy academy builds on the work NSC conducted in 2019 with twelve states to develop a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials (NDCs). Read our Expanding Opportunities: Defining Quality Non-Degree Credentials for States report to learn more about the process.

The six states teams are working toward adopting the consensus criteria and developing processes to identify quality non-degree credentials. These include:

  1. Substantial job opportunities,
  2. transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders, and
  3. evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential.

Strongly preferred criteria include: stackability to additional education and training.

States teams have the flexibility to design the process that best fits their environment. To date, Alabama, Colorado, and Oregon have adopted the consensus quality criteria. A consistent nationwide definition would make it easier for workers and job seekers to find and sustain employment, by ensuring that credentials of value in one state are also recognized in other states.

For workers, a quality NDC definition and quality assurance systems can help save time and money by helping them understand their options and the likely employment and earnings outcomes associated with specific programs.

For businesses, a quality NDC definition and quality assurance system can make it easier to identify talent and address emerging skill needs.

For education and training providers, a quality NDC framework provides clear guidance on which credentials they should offer and how to think about designing new credentials or program offerings with an eye to both return on investment from students and maximizing alignment with labor market needs.

For state policymakers, a quality NDC framework can provide a range of options for improving economic opportunities for residents and businesses alike. Policymakers can use the definition to set clear targets for NDC attainment.

Establishing a quality NDC criteria can help align and support performance accountability under federal workforce and education laws. By adopting a quality NDC definition, states can protect against increasing equity gaps by ensuring people of color, women, those with disabilities, and other underserved populations are not steered toward low-quality NDCs.

In the next stage of the project, states will identify and advance policies that can support and scale attainment of quality credentials. These may include expanding state financial aid programs and other training funds to support the attainment of quality NDCs, expanding career counseling, expanding non-tuition supportive services, supporting the development of industry partnerships, expanding apprenticeship and other work-based learning models, and supporting stackable credentials, such as the development of career pathways models and adopting statewide policies for credit articulation.

States will also design and implement data systems and policies to track access to and completion of quality credentials and resulting employment/earnings outcomes. States will also collect and use demographic data, including race and ethnicity, to help the state see if postsecondary attainment and career success are available to all residents.

The Academy will run until June 2021.

If you are interested in learning more about the Academy or NSC’s work on quality non-degree credentials, please contact Senior Fellow Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield.