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#AskExcelinEd: How Can States Make Better Use of Industry-Recognized Credentials?

• Danielle Mezera, Ph.D.

Today’s post is from Dr. Danielle Mezera, ExcelinEd’s Senior Policy Fellow for Innovation.

Last week, I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel at the 2019 Western Pathways Conference in Portland, Oregon. The session, How States Can Make Better Use of Industry-Recognized Credentials, came on the heels of last week’s release, Credentials Matter, by ExcelinEd and Burning Glass Technologies. This groundbreaking research examines the perceived and real value placed on industry credentials by states and industries, and it should give all policymakers pause for reassessment before pressing further for student attainment of these credentials.

Given the plethora of credentials that have flooded the education market in recent years, it is easy to understand why—as the Credentials Matter report and interactive website show—states struggle to match credential attainment with worth, and supply with demand. Couple this with data collection processes that are less than robust or are nonexistent, and informed decision making by policymakers becomes invaluable.

The State of Credentials

Stephen Lynch, vice president of workforce and economic development, with Burning Glass kicked off the panel discussion by highlighting Credentials Matter’s key results and recommendations, which included:

  1. There are no consistent state definitions for industry-related credentials.
  2. Half of the most commonly promoted and attained credentials are over-supplied/over-represented in those industries.
  3. Just over half of all states actually collect data on attained credentials though all states promote student attainment of credentials.
  4. The most commonly promoted credentials are also often the most oversupplied.

Perhaps his most lasting, notable comments were the acknowledgements that:

  1. Not all currently-promoted credentials are viewed equally by industry.
  2. Too many promoted credentials are being misdefined and/or misused by policymakers and vendors for various reasons.
  3. Credentials vary in their value and must be interpreted through that lens.
  4. Businesses, across all industry sectors, must involve themselves in the discernment of valued and recognized skills in the workplace and the development of credentials that reflect those valued skills.
  5. States must step up and become informed consumers of the products they are promoting for the long-term good of their students and their industry sectors.

As the discussion progressed to other panelists, Stephen’s comments set the clear tone and tenor for the remainder of the session: each state has the potential to build a better career education system for students.

Prioritizing High-Value Credentials

Cindy Hill, principal industrial and organizational psychologist with ACT Inc. and John Hershey, manager of strategic workforce development with CompTIA, each focused on their company’s development of career readiness skills testing and industry-recognized certifications, respectively.

These perspectives added weight to Stephen’s earlier comment regarding valued credentials and the processes that should be used by both vendors and state policymakers to affirm value. For CompTIA, its promoted certifications are fully vetted by the IT sector, which spans multiple industries including the U.S. Department of Defense. The value placed on CompTIA certifications, as John shared, is captured through the strong employer signaling found on job postings and online job boards. CompTIA undergoes a review cycle of each certification every three years, which allows for ongoing industry engagement and skills relevance.

The value of a credential, John noted, is only as high as (1) how and why it was created and (2) how it is used or placed in a student’s learning progression. Often, the misplacement of valued industry credentials in a student’s learning can be just as detrimental as a student earning an unvalued credential.

Building a Better Educational Path for Students

The last panelist was Thalea Longhurst, state CTE director for the Utah State Board of Education, and she brought a practitioner’s voice to the conversation. At the end of the day, Thalea observed, it comes down to how state policymakers inform themselves and then impart that information to their local districts and schools, as well as postsecondary institutions. She shared that for all the progress Utah has made in this area, it has a long way to go, as evident by the Credentials Matter report.

In all, I want to thank all the panelists and those who attended the session for the straightforward discussion. It was an honor.

But this panel discussion and the many associated discussions that are taking place across states need to result in more than just conversation. Substantive policies, approaches and commitments must be made within and across states who are serious about ensuring their students earn and possess the necessary skills and credentials that are truly valued for employment and by employers. And it is incumbent upon businesses to actively engage in the education process to inform that learning and to define that value.

Our states can build better educational paths for their students. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Please explore the resources linked below, and let us know how ExcelinEd can assist your state in developing or strengthening career pathways for students.

Explore the Website

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

Read the Report

View the Credentials Matter report to examine the analysis’s approach, findings and recommendations.

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

Danielle Mezera, Ph.D.

Danielle Mezera is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on innovation policies. Dr. Mezera is also principal consultant with DCM Consulting where she regularly works with clients at the national, state and local levels on career and technical education (CTE) and on K-16 education-to-career learning models. She previously served five years as the Assistant Commissioner for College, Career and Technical Education with the Tennessee Department of Education and led a systemwide overhaul of the state’s CTE program to develop and implement rigorous, aligned programs of study. Dr. Mezera also served five years as Director of Children and Youth with Nashville’s Office of the Mayor and Tennessee’s Davidson County. Before entering public service, she served as a director at the Vanderbilt University Institute for Public Policy Studies. Dr. Mezera holds a Master of Education degree and Doctor of Philosophy in education.