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Building Credential Currency to Ensure Credentials Matter

• Melissa Canney

Over the past two months, ExcelinEd released Credentials Matter, a suite of resources designed to shed light on the landscape of industry credential data collection and alignment across the country. The project’s second report, Where Credentials Meet the Market, finds that earning a credential is associated with positive long-term outcomes related to high school completion, community college enrollment and completion as well as wages. In other words, earning a credential does matter for students and for states.

However, there are thousands of credentials available. Are states, districts and postsecondary institutions offering the credentials with the most value in their unique economies? Consider some of the major findings from our first report, Credentials Matter: A National Landscape.

Credentials Matter Findings

  1. Only 28 states collect data on student credential attainment at the secondary level; 10 states currently collect this data at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.
  2. States do not have consistent definitions for what constitutes a credential.
  3. Only 19% of the credentials earned by high school students are demanded by employers.
  4. Of the 24 states where data were available and analyzed, no state is highly aligned in terms of supply of credentials earned by high school students and the demand for those credentials in the job market.

Every state has room to grow to ensure that the credentials students earn lead to high-skill, high-wage, in-demand careers. One challenge for states is how to identify, promote and report the credentials that are most valuable to employers and students.

4 Phases to Build Credential Currency

Building Credential Currency: Resources to Drive Attainment across K-12, Higher Education, and Workforce Development, a new resource from Education Strategy Group (ESG), provides states with a data-driven, transparent approach for states to engage stakeholders to identify and promote high-value credentials on an ongoing basis. The toolkit outlines step-by-step processes and poses critical questions/decision points for collaborative state teams to consider in four phases.

Phase 1: Identify High-Value Non-Degree Credentials
This features a process to use labor-market data to define high-skill, high-wage and in-demand (priority) occupations. States are encouraged to use job postings data and an optional direct application process to identify the non-degree credentials that are required or preferred in each of the priority occupations.

Phase 2: Validate the Preliminary List of Priority Non-Degree Credentials
This process engages employers to validate the data-driven list of priority occupations and credentials through surveys and focus groups. This phase results in a consistent statewide, cross-agency list of priority occupations and credentials.

Phase 3: Incentivize Attainment of Priority Non-Degree Credentials
The toolkit features structural and funding approaches for states to differentiate and incentivize valued credentials. These approaches include incentivizing funding (illustrated by a case study of Florida’s model), statewide articulation agreements and offsetting costs of credentialing programs and/or fees.

Phase 4: Report on Attainment of Priority Non-Degree Credentials
As we’ve noted, non-degree credential attainment data must be collected, verified and stored consistently across agencies to ensure accuracy and reliability. This section also identifies opportunities for states to incorporate non-degree credentials within federal accountability and state reporting systems.

A Big Undertaking That’s Worth the Investment

The process outlined in Building Credential Currency is not easy work for states. It will require a substantial investment of time and resources by the interagency state team. However, the return on investment in terms of increased alignment and system efficiencies is worth it. The recurring labor market analysis and stakeholder engagement processes can be leveraged to inform and expedite a variety of related initiatives across the education-to-workforce delivery system (e.g. Perkins V state and local planning, a statewide CTE audit, CTE program approval/review processes).

States can use Credentials Matter to explore whether the industry credentials currently earned by students hold value in the labor market. Then, with Building Credential Currency, they can begin a process to ensure all non-degree credentials offered across secondary and postsecondary systems lead to high-skill, high-wage and in-demand careers.

About the author

Melissa Canney

Melissa Canney is the Director of Innovation Policy at ExcelinEd. She previously served as the Executive Director of Divisional Operations and Communications in the Division of College, Career and Technical Education at the Tennessee Department of Education. Melissa’s experience in Tennessee included policy analysis and implementation, communication strategy development, grant management and data analysis related to college and career readiness. A Vermont native, Melissa earned a B.A in Sociology from Stanford University and an M.P.P. in Education from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her dog Moxie.