States working to advance quality non-degree credentials attainment and racial equity

By Rachel Vilsack, October 28, 2021

Postsecondary education and training have become essential to the economic mobility of working adults of color, particularly those most impacted by the economic crisis, such as workers of color, immigrants, and workers with a high school diploma or less. 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 economic recovery responses, helping workers earning low wages obtain better jobs in expanding sectors and serving to reconnect them to further postsecondary education and training opportunities.

National Skills Coalition will be working with six state teams as part of our 2021-2022 Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy: Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee. 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, state teams will commit to:

  • Adopting a quality non-degree credential definition,
  • Developing a policy agenda to increase the number of residents with quality credentials, and
  • Centering racial equity to ensure adult workers of color have access to and can successfully attain quality credentials.

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, such as community-based organizations and 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 Education Strategy Group and will have opportunities to learn from subject matter experts and participate in peer-to-peer learning. Alabama, and Virginia will serve as peer mentors, as these states have succeeded in adopting quality definitions.

This is the second cohort of states to participate in the policy academy, which builds on the work NSC conducted in 2019 with twelve states to develop a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials. States will work toward adopting the consensus criteria and developing processes to identify quality non-degree credentials. These criteria include:

  • Substantial job opportunities,
  • Transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders,
  • Evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential, and
  • Embed non-degree credentials in other education and training pathways.

State teams have the flexibility to design the process that best fits their environment. Establishing a quality non-degree credential criteria can help align and support performance accountability under federal workforce and education laws. By adopting a quality non-degree credential 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 options.

A quality non-degree credential definition and quality assurance system can:

  • Help workers save time and money by improving information on the likely employment and earnings outcomes associated with specific programs.
  • Make it easier for businesses to identify talent and address emerging skill needs.
  • Offer clear guidance to education and training providers 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.
  • Help policymakers provide a range of options for improving economic opportunities for residents and businesses alike and set clear targets for non-degree credential attainment.

States will identify and advance policies that can support and scale attainment of quality credentials. These may include expanding state financial aid programs to support the attainment of quality non-degree credentials, expanding career counseling, expanding non-tuition supportive services, supporting the development of industry partnerships, expanding apprenticeship and other work-based learning models, and developing career pathways models and statewide policies for credit articulation.

States will also design and implement data policies to track access to and completion of quality credentials and resulting employment and earnings outcomes. States will be encouraged to 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.

To center racial equity, NSC will be assisting states in the creation of external advisory committees. These committees will help inform states teams on equitable access and attainment policies for quality non-degree credentials. These committees will include community-based organizations serving communities of color and other organizations representing workers.