Credential Quality and Transparency are important for an inclusive, equitable recovery. 

By Rachel Vilsack, August 10, 2021

Students, parents, & teachers need to know which skills training programs lead to employment

Americans need clear and reliable information about their educational options. But they also need to know how to navigate these options. It’s no mystery why: there are nearly 1,000,000 unique credentials issued in the U.S. and more than 50,000 training providers and community colleges that offer credentials. Students, parents, and employers need a way to navigate information about these credentials to understand which pathway is the most promising. Having good data on credential quality and transparency helps people select a path that leads to equitable economic and career success. Good data helps students, working adults, and people undergoing career transitions know what training will help them succeed in growing industries and to understand which credentials will help them upgrade their skills to find work in the new economy.

Creating an impact with Credential Quality and Transparency is a state policy toolkit that provides a map for how states that want to improve credential quality and transparency can use the quality non-degree credential framework (outlined by National Skills Coalition) and the linked, open-source data framework, common description language, and publishing platform created by Credential Engine.

By combining efforts on both quality and transparency, states can guarantee that students, workers, and adults in career transition receive a consistent signal about which high-quality skills training programs will lead to employment, so that they can meet their education and earnings goals.

What is credential quality?

NSC proposes a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials and criteria that states can adopt for their own quality assurance systems in order to make sensible budget and policy decisions and advance equity, putting students on a path to success.

The four key criteria for defining quality non-degree credentials:

  • There must be evidence of substantial job opportunities associated with the credential. Evidence must include quantitative data and direct communication with employers.
  • There must be transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders; where the appropriate length of the training program is how long it takes to master the competencies.
  • There must be transparent evidence of the actual employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining a credential. The data should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, and other characteristics to measure equitable progress.
  • Finally, stackability to additional education or training can help individuals advance in their educational, training, or employment pathway.

What is credential transparency?

There are nearly one million unique credentials issued in the United States and well over 50,000 providers. Information on credentials and their outcomes need to be clearly and readily available so individuals can search, discover, and compare credentials in order to choose the most promising pathway.

Credential Engine provides a suite of web-based services, such as a Credential Registry to house credential information using a common description language, and a platform to search and retrieve information about credentials. By connecting NSC’s quality non-degree credential criteria to Credential Engine’s common description language, more complete information about a credential can now be made publicly available to learners.

How can states use the toolkit?

This toolkit provides information for states, and other stakeholders, who are interested in learning about credential quality and transparency. For stakeholders who already have familiarity with either credential quality or transparency efforts, this toolkit will demonstrate the combined power of both efforts.

  • States that have already adopted quality definitions for non-degree credentials will learn more about how Credential Engine can help them describe and publish information about credentials, including data elements associated with quality.
  • States that already partner with Credential Engine to make their credential information available on the Credential Registry will learn about why defining quality non-degree credentials is so important.
  • Finally, states that have not yet engaged in conversations on credential quality or transparency will find practical resources and recommendations to begin the process.

Why do states need a toolkit?

It is imperative that students, working adults, and people undergoing career transitions know what training will help them succeed in growing industries and to understand which credentials will help them upgrade their skills to find work in the new economy.

Credential quality and transparency information can also be a useful tool for equity. Most states have postsecondary attainment goals which aim, in part, to increase the number of people of color who receive credentials. As states have developed policies to expand access to degrees and credentials for adult learners and nontraditional students, it is critical for states to define which non-degree credentials offer quality to learners in the workplace and expand access to postsecondary attainment for those who would otherwise go without.

If America wants to build an inclusive economy where all workers and businesses have the skills they need to stay competitive in a rapidly changing global marketplace, everyone must work together to expand access, attainment and transparency around quality non-degree credentials.