How Quality Assurance Criteria Serves the Unique Needs of Six States

By Rachel Vilsack, September 08, 2021

This summer, National Skills Coalition concluded its first Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy with participation from six states: Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia. The academy supported state teams in defining quality non-degree credentials (using NSC’s consensus criteria), developing a policy agenda to increase the number of residents with quality credentials, and improving the data policies to support such efforts.

During the academy, states brought a range of stakeholders within and across agencies and engaged other external stakeholders like training providers and advocates to tailor quality assurance criteria to the unique needs and circumstances of their states. Their work over the past 18 months was particularly timely as states looked to develop quality training programs in response to COVID-19’s impact on the economy. By setting quality standards, states can make smart policy and budget decisions that will support an inclusive economic recovery.

Here is a brief overview of what these states were able to accomplish:

“This work has been both timely and forward looking,” said Nick Moore, the coordinator of the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, which led the cross-agency team in Alabama. “It has set us up to do a lot deeper work on credential quality and transparency and rethinking what a competency- and demand-driven workforce system looks like.”

  • Colorado focused on reaching a stakeholder consensus for defining quality non-degree credentials and implementing polices that would better support access to data on non-degree credentials, including apprenticeship data. Colorado also passed a bill detailing a statewide plan for awarding college credit for work-related experience and ensuring students have access to high-quality credentials of value.
  • Louisiana used their participation in the academy to further develop the talent pipeline necessary to meet the ambitious attainment goal of 60 percent of working adults holding a degree or credential by 2030. The Louisiana Board of Regents approved a “quality credentials of value” policy to identify non-academic credentials, typically awarded through community and technical colleges, that provide value in the marketplace and lead to strong opportunities and good wages.

“We were able to develop a North Star with the number of stakeholders in this work,” said Randall Brumfield, the Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Planning and Student Success at the Louisiana Board of Regents. “It was rewarding to have a common understanding and value around our credentials of value definition.”

  • New Jersey worked with the State’s Credential Review Board, a statutorily required body, to adopt a quality assurance framework that will be applied to the state’s Eligible Training Provider List. This included an equity measure to ensure accountability, consumer protection, and to communicate to those seeking education and training programs which ones are worth their investment and participation, and which will be less helpful in their careers.
  • Oregon leveraged an Adult Learner Advisory Committee (ALAC) that was created and charged to look at the policies and programs to support the state’s adult attainment goal and to define credentials valued in the workforce. The ALAC informed the “credentials that work” definition, while also integrating complementary work that was already happing in the state, such as using the state’s self-sufficiency standard as a threshold wage to determine a quality non-degree credential. Oregon has plans to pursue the creation of a grant program with wraparound services and other supports, like transportation and child care, to support adult learners in obtaining credentials that work.
  • Virginia has a commitment to creating pathways for working adults. A quality non-degree credential criteria is built into the FastForward program at Virginia’s Community College System (VCCS). The Virginia team’s big win was being able to effectively tell legislators why funding quality non-degree credentials is important.

Randy Stamper, an Assistant Vice Chancellor at VCCS, said that “[t]he true realization of the work that we have all done will be achieved when we get Pell for these short-term programs [like the JOBS Act] because we know that if you put the right criteria in place, if you identify and fund the right programs and the right credentials, then it does lead people out of poverty, and it does improve lives.”

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.

States defining quality non degree credentials (NDCs) and having a quality assurance system is important for workers, because it helps them save time and money by helping them understand their options and the likely employment and earning outcomes associated with specific programs. It also helps businesses who need to identify talent and address emerging skill needs. It’s important for education and training providers in order to have clear guidance on which credentials should be offered and how to think about designing new credentials that align with labor market needs. For state policymakers, quality non-degree credentials can also provide a range of options for improving economic opportunities for residents and businesses.

Establishing 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.

Thanks to the success of these state efforts, and the generous support of the Lumina Foundation, NSC will be hosting another 15-month quality credential policy academy with up to 8 states in 2021-2022.