Expanding Financial Assistance for High-Quality Non-Degree Credentials: Announcing a New NSC Initiative

By Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, June 07, 2022

As our country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, many adults continue to seek avenues to recover from work disruptions and (re)establish financial stability. For people who are interested in pursuing education and training that can lead to good jobs, short-term skills training programs can offer a route to increased employment opportunities and improved earnings more quickly than traditional degree programs. Yet many short-term programs, which confer non-degree credentials, are not eligible for federal or state student grant aid, which can make them unattainable to people with limited incomes. The lack of financial assistance for skills training compounds the structural barriers facing many workers, including workers of color, whose ability to engage in higher education is inhibited by historical racism, and contemporary factors including racial discrimination, the racial wealth gap, and disproportionate harm experienced by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers throughout the pandemic.

If we are to achieve a more equitable, inclusive economic recovery, states need to develop financial assistance policies that support the attainment of high-quality credentials that lead to good jobs and opportunities for further education and training. With this goal in mind and generous support from the Lumina Foundation, National Skills Coalition (NSC) is launching a project to provide technical assistance to states that are ready to develop financial assistance policies to aid in the attainment of high-quality non-degree credentials.

The State Financial Assistance for High-Quality Non-Degree Credentials Initiative (SFA Initiative) builds on NSC’s work to help states develop and adopt consensus quality criteria for non-degree credentials and related state policies to increase the attainment of such credentials. A quality framework can help states determine which pathways are most promising for its residents and how to invest valuable state resources—including investments in state financial assistance. NSC has supported state policy academies—including one currently—during which cross-agency teams work toward developing and adopting these quality standards and identifying policies to increase equitable attainment of high-quality non-degree credentials.

The SFA Initiative will help three state teams from Arkansas, Michigan, and Minnesota make non-degree programs that promote racially equitable outcomes in postsecondary credential attainment and the labor market more accessible to working adults. Our technical assistance will support states in identifying avenues for developing new or expanding existing sources of financial assistance specifically for high-quality non-degree credentials—meaning those that provide individuals with the means to equitably achieve their informed employment and educational goals, and which are associated with valid, reliable, and transparent evidence that they satisfy the criteria that constitute quality.

NSC will support states in considering how a quality framework for non-degree credentials might inform a corresponding financial assistance program or investment. We will also draw on the expertise of peer mentor states, such as Virginia, which have implemented financial aid programs in conjunction with quality criteria for non-degree credentials, to provide targeted support to participating state teams.

Another area of focus will include states’ collection, disaggregation, and sharing of data describing access to and outcomes of students who receive financial assistance for non-degree credentials—a critical accountability measure for achieving quality and equity goals. NSC will also provide opportunities for initiative states to engage in peer learning with each other and support them in the engagement of key stakeholders to ensure a diverse range of perspectives are considered in policy decisions.

State teams are led by each state’s community college system/association, with membership consisting of leaders from the state higher education agency, the labor or workforce agency, as well as departments of commerce, treasury, technology, and information systems, community college representatives, and community-based organizations. The initiative will conclude in June 2023.