For policymakers, students and advocates, quality information for credentials is vital

By Rachel Vilsack, May 27, 2021

Learners and working adults need information about credentials and their outcomes in a format that is easy to understand. With nearly one million unique credentials issued in the United States, anyone who needs access to timely, reliable information on high-quality skills training should be able to find it. 

Credential Engine, in partnership with NSC and 10 other influential organizations, has released a new policy brief, Making Information about Credentials More Actionable through Increased Transparency and Quality Assurance. The brief explores how governors, legislators, and agency leaders can work to advance credential transparency. It also examines how increased quality and transparency help meet their postsecondary completion, equity, and workforce goals.

What is Credential Quality?

National Skills Coalition believes quality non-degree credentials can be evaluated through data. The four key criteria for defining quality non-degree credentials are:

  • There must be evidence of substantial job opportunities related to a credential. Employers must confirm that the credential is used in hiring, retention, or promotion decisions.
  • There needs to be evidence that credential holders have mastered certain competencies. The length of time is not as important as whether or not individuals can demonstrate the skills needed to do the job associated with the credential.
  • Information about credentials must be available. This includes employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining a credential. And whenever possible, outcomes should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender and other characteristics that can help to identify equity gaps so they may be addressed in a timely manner.
  • Lastly, non-degree credentials are often just one step along a career pathway. Whenever possible, non-degree credentials should lead to additional educational and training opportunities.

Why is Credential Quality and Transparency important?

Simply put: Americans need clear and reliable information about their educational options. But they also need to know how to navigate these options. Good data on credential quality and transparency helps them select a path that leads to equitable economic and career success.

Everyone benefits from quality information because: 

  • A single quality framework helps adult learners better understand the skills and competencies required for in-demand jobs in their state. It becomes easier to identify programs with proven outcomes that provide in-demand credentials and offer longterm career growth.
  • Employers can describe the competencies, skills, and knowledge they are seeking in job applicants more efficiently. This reduces the risks of hiring unqualified candidates. 
  • Education and training providers can meet the changing needs of the workplace using data that helps them align their programs to local labor markets. 
  • Policymakers can ensure that public dollars are being spent on skills training programs with quality credentials. This clarity can create a path to an inclusive economic recovery.

What are some recommended actions for states?

State leaders are critical to ensuring the quality assurance process is coordinated and aligned to serve all stakeholders. Policymakers should be consistent about which skills training programs and credentials aid in the reskilling and upskilling of working adults. Combining credential quality and transparency efforts helps ensure this consistency.

Here are some recommendations and examples of state efforts:

  • Prioritize and coordinate efforts to assure the quality and transparency of credentials.

State example: Colorado has leveraged their student longitudinal data system to create a “data trust.This makes it more efficient to link data collections and produce more actionable information. As part of this effort, credentials that are offered in Colorado will be available on Credential Engine’s Credential Registry, so that students and working adults can make more informed decisions. Through recent work with the National Skills Coalition, Colorado also adopted criteria to define quality non-degree credentials. This will increase the usefulness of credential information for students and adult learners when setting their education and employment goals.

  • Compel education and training leaders to define high-quality credentials as those that meet rigorous labor market skill and demand thresholds.

State example: The Louisiana Board of Regents recently approved a quality credentials of value policy. A cross-sector teamrepresenting workforce, economic development, secondary, higher education and community college leadershipwas vital to validating the policy. It will classify which non-academic credentials provide value in the marketplace and lead to strong career opportunities with good wages. These credentials of value will also be counted towards the state’s postsecondary attainment goal.

  • Require that outcomes are published on public open source portals, like the Credential Registry.

State example: Leaders in Alabama are intentionally linking credential quality and transparency efforts with the launch of the Alabama Compendium of Valuable Credentials. This list of high-value credentials is aligned with regional and state career pathways. Information about credentials will be made available using a common data language. This allows for a greater connection of systems and tools to advance the success of state residents.

Want to learn more?

The Making Information about Credentials More Actionable through Increased Transparency and Quality Assurance policy brief includes more information on how quality frameworks are being supported in Credential Engine’s transparency efforts.