New National Skills Coalition Report Defines Quality Non-Degree Credentials and Offers Recommendations for Developing Quality Assurance Systems for Those Credentials

By Ayobami Olugbemiga, September 24, 2019

Washington, D.C. — National Skills Coalition today released a new paper – Expanding Opportunities: Defining Quality Non-Degree Credentials for States – which defines quality non-degree credentials and outlines the criteria that states should adopt for their quality assurance systems.

The paper defines a quality non-degree credential as one that “provides individuals with the means to equitably achieve their informed employment and educational goals.”

Non-degree credentials – such as certificates awarded by an education institution, apprenticeship certificates earned through work-based learning, industry certifications awarded by a certification body (not a school or government agency), and occupational licenses awarded by a government licensing agency – help workers get better jobs while also reconnecting them to further postsecondary education and training opportunities.

According to the paper, 27 percent of adults held a non-degree credential in 2016. The number of workers who participated in registered apprenticeship programs also increased by 56 percent between 2013 and 2018 – from 375,000 to 585,000 participants – and nearly 300,000 individuals completed apprenticeship programs over that timeframe.

Nearly every state has or is considering a postsecondary education attainment goal, which sets a threshold for the number of people within that state who hold some type of postsecondary credential at 55 percent or higher. Non-degree credentials are a key component of state credential attainment goals. That’s why it’s important for states to have clear processes and criteria to determine which non-degree credentials provide value to students, workers, and businesses.

The paper highlights four criteria that should be considered for a non-degree credential to be identified as quality.

  1. There must be evidence of substantial job opportunities associated with the credential. And the evidence must include quantitative data and direct communication with employers.
  2. There must be transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders; competencies that align with expected job opportunities.
  3. There must be evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential.
  4. The credential would ideally stack to additional education or training.

National Skills Coalition developed this criteria in consultation with 12 states that had already established – or were in the process of developing – quality assurance criteria and processes for these credentials: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. NSC also sought feedback from national and state higher education and workforce development officials, including experts on its racial equity and postsecondary education advisory panels.

“The criteria identified should allow state policymakers to be comfortable supporting quality NDC [non-degree credential] programs with public funds, students to be confident about selecting high-quality training, and employers to understand which programs are effectively preparing students for careers,” the paper states. “The quality NDC criteria can also help states address racial and other equity gaps by providing more pathways into quality postsecondary education and training and good jobs for people of color.”

The paper also outlines a range of policy recommendations to help states establish quality assurance systems for non-degree credentials. These include determining which programs or policies will be covered by the quality criteria for non-degree credentials, the entities within the state that are responsible for developing and implementing that criteria and the process by which the criteria will be established; advancing policies that support quality non-degree credential attainment, such as expanding state financial aid; and implementing policies to improve data, determine quality, and measure credential attainment.

Read the full paper here