Credential Currency

How States Can Identify and Promote Credentials of Value

Postsecondary credentials matter more today than any time previously in history. They provide currency in the labor market and serve as key momentum points for individuals on a path to economic opportunity, especially those from underserved communities. K-12 state leaders recognize this economic shift and have placed greater emphasis on college and career readiness for all students.

Twenty-six states now include industry-recognized credentials as a component of their reporting or accountability systems for high schools. That is up from 11 prior to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. This represents a significant shift in state recognition that earning an industry credential while in high school can pay dividends for a student’s long-term prospects.

As greater weight is placed on these credentials, a fundamental challenge has emerged: with over 4,000 credentialing bodies nationwide offering thousands of different industry-recognized credentials across sectors, very little information is available about their value. How can states that have encouraged the growth of industry-recognized credentials determine which ones to prioritize to scale attainment?

To help answer that question, and guide states work in this area, Education Strategy Group, in partnership with CCSSO, and Advance CTE convened a work group of state and national leaders from K-12, higher education, and industry to develop a roadmap for how states can identify which credentials have labor market value and approaches to improve credential attainment and reporting.

Credentials have currency in two primary ways: they (1) help an individual find employment or advance in the workforce and/or (2) accelerate a student’s progression into and through postsecondary education and training. It is critical that states place their greatest focus on the credentials that provide the greatest value to students and employers.

Specifically, the report recommends states focus on:

  1. Identifying high-value credentials through analysis of employer signals of value and identification of credentials that count for postsecondary credit. All states should build a cross-sector priority credential list to use in programmatic and funding decisions.
  2. Incentivizing attainment of high-value credentials through demonstration of the value proposition credentials provide for students’ futures, promoting school and district prioritization of high-value credentials with incentives in funding and accountability systems, and publicly communicating the importance of specific credentials.
  3. Collecting and reporting credential attainment data with new expectations for data collection and quality that do not rely upon self-reported information.

This work is critical not only to prepare students for the demands of the workforce, but it also is a matter of equity: states have a responsibility to make sure all kids have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in life after high school. Ensuring students’ equitable access to earning high-value industry credentials is a critical step toward enabling their economic and career success.

Ultimately, a credential is currency for students. It is up to K-12, postsecondary, and workforce leaders to ensure that students can cash in that currency to realize economic prosperity.