Credentials of Value


Several people representing different professionsThere is growing recognition of the value of non-degree credentials, attained through demonstration of skills and mastery. Credential programs that offer industry-wide recognition provide the ability for students to attain a valuable and transferable credential to use in the workforce. States are focusing on high value credentials that lead to future employment or further education. 

Credentials cover a wide range of programs and certificates, but are generally: 

  • Targeted to a specific job-relevant skill that can be targeted to meet labor market demand.
  • Far shorter and significantly cheaper than a traditional degree program.
  • Expanding to include a variety of career and workforce fields. Technology companies such as Google have begun using credentials to fill expertise in computer programming and IT professions. Credentials are also on the rise in industries such as healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. 
  • Offered by a variety of providers including colleges, universities and technical schools but also industry groups and the military.

Types of Credentials 

Numerous different types of credentials exist, and programs can often vary greatly. However, a few common types and features of credentials have emerged in recent years. 

Stackable Credentials

 A stackable credential is generally recognized as a credential that can be used toward a higher-level certificate or degree such as an associate degree. These credentials build upon each other, and allow students to use prior knowledge and continue education over time. In 2018, nine states included specific references to stackable credentials in enacted legislation or appropriation bills. The National Skills Coalition has detailed additional benefits of stackable credentials in this report

Microcredentials and Badges 

Microcredentials are most similar to certificates and offer highly specific courses to develop distinct skills. They are typically offered online and are available on-demand. They are often targeted to help workers in an existing profession build on their skills or learn a new program. For that reason, many consider microcredentials to be a valuable tool for continuing education and professional development. Nearly all are competency-based and involve mastery-based testing.  One common area of use for microcredentialing is for educator professional development. Illinois SB 0578 (2013) allows teachers to use microcredentials as part of professional development. 

Graduate Credentials 

Several schools have begun offering specialized and short-term master’s programs in highly specific topics. These programs are often in collaboration with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). These programs often start with small courses on specific topics. These courses can then be used for credentials that can be used for credit as part of a master’s program. The goal of these programs is to make advanced education more flexible and provide stepping stone for student back into an educational program. EdX is one provider offering these programs in collaboration with MIT, University of Pennsylvania and Georgia Tech.

Policy Questions to Consider 

  • Does the state have a goal or target for credential attainment? Maryland SB 317 (2017) directed the State Board of Education, Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the Governor’s Workforce Development Board to develop statewide attainment goals for industry recognized credentials.
  • What incentives and mandates does the state offer for credential programs? California AB 19 (2017) includes increasing credentials and certificates as part of the goal of the California College Promise Program. Louisiana SB 102 (2017) includes credential attainment as part of the funding model for workforce training and education programs.
  • Is there a protocol in place to collect data and information about credentials? California SB 1348 (2018) requires each community college program that offers a certificate for health professionals to report information and licensing data to the state.
  • How are states identifying what is a high value credential? Louisiana’s Workforce Investment Council reviews credential every two years to evaluate labor market demand and participation data to determine if the credential is still valuable.

State Policy Approaches 

  • Minnesota SF 2415 (2019) includes requirements that the commissioner of the Office of Higher Education must administer a credential completion program for adult learners as part of the Minnesota Reconnect Program.  
  • Utah SB 131 (2018) requires the development and analysis of credential programs including stackable credentials.
  • Indiana SB 198 (2017) includes attainment of an industry recognized certification or credential as part of the state’s definition of a workforce-related program.
  • Virginia HB 1592 (2017) Requires community colleges to develop policies and procedures for awarding academic credit for successful completion of a state-approved credential.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources