State Approaches to Governance and Oversight
The approaches states have taken to protect consumers include defining credentials of value, creating lists to compare credential programs, and requiring certified programs to meet certain criteria. Some states have already taken on the challenge of bringing governance, oversight and transparency to the nondegree credentials space.
The Louisiana State Board of Regents added credential of value standards to the state’s higher education master plan in 2020. Among the standards, which were created by a partnership of state agencies and the National Skills Coalition, are that credentials line up with highly rated occupations, lead to a 20% wage premium over a high school diploma and provide evidence of competencies mastered by credential holders. The master plan also includes “on-ramp” credentials that might not meet the stringent standards to qualify as a credential of value. On-ramp credentials are recognized by industry partners, and students must meet relevant standards to earn them.
In 1955, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island created the New England Board of Higher Education. Since its inception, the board’s goal has been to foster cooperation among the region’s institutions of higher education. Legislators from the member states are involved in the governance of the board.
In 2018, the board received a grant in partnership with Credential Engine, a non-profit focuses on mapping the credential landscape across the nation, to create High Value Credentials for New England. The initiative started with an advisory committee that defined the characteristics of a high-value credential. The committee determined that high value credentials:
- Represent a pathway that leads to a satisfying career with family-sustaining wages.
- Fill a community need.
- Is portable across state lines.
- Is affordable.
- Offers valuable learning opportunities.
The next step for the initiative was creating a tool to catalog and compare the quality and value of credentials offered in the New England region. The board partnered with Credential Engine to host the registry, and multiple state college and university systems have their high-value credential programs on the platform.
Iowa has one of the most robust systems to provide financial support for students pursuing nondegree credentials and certificates. The Gap Tuition Assistance Program was created by the Legislature to assist students in the completion of short-term training programs for in-demand occupations. The program is unique because it targets training programs that are not eligible for Pell Grant financial aid.
Eligible programs must do one of the following:
- Offer a state, national or locally recognized certificate.
- Offer preparation for a professional examination or licensure.
- Provide endorsement for an existing credential or license.
- Represent recognized skill standards defined by an industrial sector.
- Offer a similar credential or training.
Additionally, programs must offer the training or credential for an in-demand occupation. The Department of Education keeps a list of all approved programs. Iowa tracks student outcomes, for those who complete programs as well. The latest data shows that after completing an eligible program, students earned about $4,800 more per year compared with their previous wage.