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#AskExcelinEd: How can educators improve students’ chances of job market success?

• Quentin Suffren

The new Credentials Matter research verifies what we had long suspected: states need to more effectively align the credentials high school students earn with local labor markets.

Credentials Matter shows that many of the hundreds of thousands of credentials U.S. high school students earn each year as part of state career and technical education (CTE) programs carry little to no weight in the labor market. In fact, only 19% of credentials earned by high school students in this analysis are demanded by employers in the U.S.

However, the news isn’t all bad. Some state and local education leaders are taking steps to build better classroom-to-career educational paths for America’s students, and there’s now have a new tool available to inform their work.

Prioritizing High-Value Credentials over Dead Ends

As the Credentials Matter research shows, not all credentials are created equally. In fact, many of the top license credentials earned in CTE programs do not lead to occupations that pay a living wage. Of the nine licenses being earned by high school students only four have any demand in occupations that command a living wage.

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Meanwhile, there are undersupplied certification credentials that command good starting salaries. Automotive Service Excellence, CompTIA A+ and AWS Certified Welder certifications, for example, are in high demand. These credentials can open doors to entry-level careers that pay well ($43,000-$44,000) and, in general, allow for career mobility.

So, how can educators ensure CTE programs offer students the chance to earn valuable industry credentials instead of credentials that lead to dead-end or low-wage jobs?

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How Educators Can Improve Students’ Chances of Job Market Success

All stakeholders—state agencies, policymakers, employers, educators, credentialing entities and families—must play a part in developing CTE programs that align to post-secondary and in-demand career opportunities. But educators play an especially vital role. Districts, schools and postsecondary institutions can collaborate with other stakeholders to significantly improve the chances of job market success for many students through the following actions:

  1. Ensure CTE program offerings lead students to valued credentials in your region.
    • Annually evaluate local/regional demand data.
    • Phase out misaligned programs that lead to dead ends/low-wage jobs.
    • Add or expand aligned programs.
  2. Leverage student credential attainment data to improve CTE program quality.
  3. Establish relationships between school districts and postsecondary institutions to accelerate student completion of career pathways that culminate in high-value credentials.
    • Leverage resources (testing site status, faculty, equipment, etc.) across both systems.
    • Communicate the value of industry credentials as part of college and career readiness to students and families.

Through aligned CTE programs, schools and educators can empower all students to identify their long-term career goals and complete coursework that prepares them to attain the postsecondary and industry credentials required for success in their chosen fields.

These programs can present students with career pathways that begin in high school and go through postsecondary. Consider the example below of a CTE program of study in Electromechanical Technology taken from the Tennessee Department of Education, Division of College, Career and Technical Education.

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Truly aligned CTE programs offer pathways toward middle- and higher-wage careers, and that’s exactly what Tennessee is working toward. But right now, too many young people across the nation are missing the chance to graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and in careers that can support a family.

We hope Credentials Matter will inform and inspire efforts to build a better classroom-to-career educational path for America’s students.

View the Website

Visit to explore interactive maps and data tables and to learn more.

Read Report 1

View the Report 1 to examine the analysis’s approach, findings and recommendations.

Read Report 2

View Report 2 to see how industry credentials impact educational and labor market outcomes.

About Credentials Matter

Credentials Matter is an ongoing research partnership between ExcelinEd and Burning Glass Technologies designed to shed light on the landscape of industry credential data collection and alignment across the country. The project provides insight into how industry credentials earned by high school students align with workforce demand in each state to inform education system improvements and state data collection practices. Visit for more information.

Credentials Matter was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

About the author

Quentin Suffren

As Innovation Policy Managing Director, Quentin oversees Personalized Learning, College and Career Pathways and Course Access policies at ExcelinEd. Previously, Quentin served as executive director of the college, career, and military preparation at the Texas Education Agency. He also held leadership positions with Amplify Education, an education consulting and technology firm, TNTP, and The Learning Institute. Quentin began his career as a high school English teacher. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Memphis.