What CAYG Is Doing … Phase Two

We are moving into Phase Two to expand the awareness and value of incremental credentialing. Learn more about what we have planned!

Transforming the Credentialing System in the U.S.

To transform our legacy degree system into a nationally recognized transferable incremental credentialing system, we must:

  • increase national awareness of and value for incremental credentials
  • ensure equity, quality, and integrity of incremental credentials
  • develop purposeful policy and practice reforms to support incremental credentialing
  • align this work with other efforts within the learn and work ecosystem

Initially, six areas are targeted to increase the adaptability, scalability, and sustainability of incremental credentialing practices:

  1. Framing the National Campaign – We will develop strategies to increase awareness of and value for incremental credentialing by centering on priority audiences – learners, employers, policymakers, and educators.
  2. Equity and Inclusion – We will support incremental credentialing strategies that expand career and educational pathways options and avoid ‘dead-end’ shorter-term credentials, increasing the recognition and credentialing of knowledge and skills as they are developed.
  3. Trust – We believe that trust is a crucial element to achieving a nationally recognized incremental credentialing system. We will explore how to develop and sustain trust in incremental credentials across different stakeholders.
  4. Rapid Prototyping and Research – Using the Incremental Credentialing Model, we will support many incremental credentials across different state systems and institutions, in conjunction with industry partners. We will conduct research on learner outcomes and revise the model based on results to move toward a national framework.
  5. Policy Reform – We know widespread change in the credentialing system cannot happen without changes in federal, quality assurance, accreditation, state, educational system and institution, and industry and individual business polices. We will conduct a deep-dive analysis of current policy initiatives and advocate for reform across all sectors.
  6. Learn and Work Ecosystem Library Portal – We know this work cannot be done in isolation and that there are many other related initiatives in the credentialing space. We also know that finding information on credentialing and various initiatives can be like finding a needle in a haystack. We will create a robust portal that will serve as a curated library of resources to support all who are working in the credentialing space and build toward a well-functioning and connected learn and work ecosystem.

What We Learned… Phase One

The feasibility of a nationally recognized incremental credentialing system was explored through an 18-month planning, research, and testing project supported in 2019-2021 by a Lumina Foundation grant: Credential As You Go (CAYG): Phase One.

Phase One Outcomes


The feasibility of a nationally recognized incremental credentialing system was explored through an 18-month planning, research, and testing project supported in 2019-2021 by a Lumina Foundation grant: Credential As You Go (CAYG): Phase One. Key outcomes from this work are as follows.

Environmental Scan
A national environmental scan, conducted by the Credential As You Go (CAYG) research team (2020), gathered 87 state and system level projects across 41 states that were connected to recognizing and credentialing learning. Although many more credentialing projects are happening at the postsecondary institutional level, the scan remained at the state and system levels because of the implication for policy change and resource allocations.

State and system level projects were identified through: 1) web searches across all 50 states and territories, and 2) projects currently known to the CAYG research team and advisory board members. Each project was examined for and themed by the purpose of the project, key issues being addressed, credential focus (credit or non-credit at the postsecondary education and/or employment levels), and key outcomes when available. These themes provided the basis for an initial incremental credentialing model that was tested further in initial pilots.

Initial Pilots
Based on findings from the environmental scan, pilots were conducted within the State University of New York (SUNY) at two community colleges (Rockland Community College/RCC and Suffolk County Community College/SCCC) and a four-year comprehensive college (SUNY Empire State College/ESC) to develop and test emerging themes (proof of concept) and refine the Incremental Credentialing Model.

During the pilot phase, the institutions worked together to create micro-credentials and credentialing pathways across six discipline areas: Advanced Manufacturing, Entrepreneurship, Business Administration, Human Services, Addiction Studies, and Public Health.


Input and Feedback
The National CAYG Advisory board met regularly throughout the 18-months of the grant, providing input and feedback on the work model. Interviews were conducted with 36 national leaders across the country to gain feedback on incremental credentialing and the model. Multiple presentations, a New York Symposium, and two national webinars provided additional feedback on the work.
Recommendations from Phase One

Based on the work in Phase One, the following recommendations were made:

  • Develop a national learner centered credentialing system that captures knowledge and skills as they are acquired.
  • Recognize, validate, and credential all learning – knowledge and skills acquisition occurs throughout the lifetime and needs to be accounted for to help learners progress in their education and employment.
  • Increase the number and types of credentials available to learners, providing more pathways of quality and integrity.
  • Connect and integrate postsecondary and workforce competencies through the different types of credentialing.
  • Provide clear messaging of what someone knows and can do, including transparent and authentic assessments.
  • Increase transparency of what someone knows and can do through comprehensive learner records.
  • Decrease student debt by providing credentials along the way and not leaving learners with no credential, and thus increasing earning power.

Incremental Credentialing Model

An Incremental Credentialing Model was developed through an 18-month planning, research, and testing project supported in 2019-2021 through a Lumina Foundation grant: Credential As You Go, Phase One.

The Incremental Credentialing Model was developed from the results of the environmental scan, prototyping, and feedback from national leaders which took place during the Credential As You Go: Phase One initiative. The Model provides five patterns of credentialing that can be used to design incremental credentials. Further work on the Model during Phase Two will include strategies, tools, and resources to develop incremental credentials across all sectors. The Model also includes auto-awarding of credentials to reduce the additional step students typically go through to “apply” for a credential or graduation.

The current version has a higher education focus, but will be expanded as the work continues to provide for learner and employer perspectives.

Learn As You Go
Incremental credentials stand on their own, unconnected to a degree, but prepare individuals for up-skilling, re-skilling, or developing new skills in specific workplace areas.


Add On As You Go
Incremental credentials are obtained for specializations that add onto a degree pathway, but may not necessarily be planning in the pathway.


Stack As You Go
Incremental credentials add together or stack into larger credentials and degrees, and are planned into credentialing pathways.


Transfer As You Go
Incremental credentials are built to transfer across institutions and are a potential cost-sharing mechanism (students cross-register to another institution to pick up a specialty that the home institution does not offer).


Partner As You Go
Incremental credentials prepare for and include field-expected credentials for work, as well as work-related credentials that are accepted into degree or other credentialing pathways, developed in conjunction with business/industry partner(s).

Incremental Credentialing Framework

An Incremental Credentialing Framework was developed through an 18-month planning, research, and testing project supported in 2019-2021 through a Lumina Foundation grant: Credential As You Go, Phase One.

The Incremental Credentialing Framework was developed from the results of the environmental scan, prototyping, and feedback from national leaders which took place during the Credential As You Go: Phase One initiative. The Framework provides six strategies of credentialing that can be used to design incremental credentials. Further work on the Framework during Phase Two will include strategies, tools, and resources to develop incremental credentials across all sectors. The Framework also includes auto-awarding of credentials to reduce the additional step students typically go through to “apply” for a credential or graduation.

The current version has a higher education focus, but will be expanded as the work continues to provide for learner and employer perspectives.

  • Learn As You Go: Incremental credentials stand on their own, unconnected to a degree, but prepare individuals for up-skilling, re-skilling, or developing new skills in specific workplace areas.
  • Add On As You Go: Incremental credentials are obtained for specializations that add onto a degree pathway, but may not necessarily be planning in the pathway.
  • Stack As You Go: Incremental credentials add together or stack into larger credentials and degrees, and are planned into credentialing pathways.
  • Transfer As You Go: Incremental credentials are built to transfer across institutions and are a potential cost-sharing mechanism (students cross-register to another institution to pick up a specialty that the home institution does not offer).
  • Partner As You Go: Incremental credentials prepare for and include field-expected credentials for work, as well as work-related credentials that are accepted into degree or other credentialing pathways, developed in conjunction with business/industry partner(s).
  • Retro As You Go: Incremental credentials are awarded for learning already acquired but not yet credentialed.

Why this is important…

The postsecondary credentialing system in the U.S. is in crisis. The centuries-old, traditional four-tiered system (associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate) can be insurmountable for many and punitive to those who do not complete any given tier. This system no longer serves our country’s social and economic needs.

Problem and Purpose
For too many learners, the only postsecondary credentials that count are four tiers of degrees (associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate). Degrees are widely recognized and often required to be considered for employment. This singular focus on degrees punishes those who attend college but do not complete a traditional degree, often treating them as if they have no postsecondary-level learning.

The impacts are far-reaching and serious for all but America’s most entitled populations. Credentialing is an equity issue. The differentials of employment and income between those who do/don’t have a college degree are blatant. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the disparities, with millions needing to upskill and reskill to remain or become re-employed.

Many are calling for the U.S. to embrace the growing array of shorter-term credentials and integrate them with degrees. Credentialing seals learning into qualifications that are recognizable, transferable, and usable to gain and sustain employment and continue education. Without formally recognized credentials, the system treats individuals as if they have no knowledge and skills, even if they have acquired equivalent learning through work and life experiences or previous college coursework. The U.S. needs a postsecondary system that captures uncounted learning and validates that learning to enable individuals to be recognized for what they know and can do.

This issue is not only an American issue; many other nations are embarked in similar efforts to incentivize and recognize microcredentials alongside degrees.

The purpose of the Credential As You Go initiative is to develop a nationally recognized incremental credentialling system as a systemic, structural transformation to a postsecondary education model centered on degrees.

Larger Context: Moving Toward an Integrated Learn and Work Ecosystem
Incremental credentialing is a big piece of building a 21st Century learn and work ecosystem, and will be developed in collaboration and integration with initiatives advancing other pieces of the future ecosystem. Much work already is underway to integrate cycles of learning and working. Key examples are the many excellent efforts focused on clarifying competencies that are needed for learning and working, aligning education and workplace learning, creating better transparency of and connecting credentials across education and industry, integrating industry credentials and prior learning into the degree system, developing new student learning records that incorporate learning acquired outside the traditional classroom, developing employer hiring systems based on hiring for skills, and developing common language and data structures to increase interoperability.

However, all these efforts are hindered by the current legacy degree system. The inflexibility of existing degree structures is out of sync with the needs of learners to be able to gain the knowledge and skills required of living, learning, and working in the 21st century. Moving to a nationally recognized incremental credentialing system does not negate current degree structures, but rather embraces them within a larger context of an array of credentials that provide learners with recognition and validation of what they know and can do as they progress through their lives.

Credential As You Go: Incremental Credentialing
Incremental credentialing enables individuals to be credentialed as they gain knowledge and skills, not delaying recognition to only when achieving one of the four-degree levels. A nationally recognized transferable incremental credentialing system would improve access to, persistence in, and successful attainment of high-quality, postsecondary and industry credentials that lead to further education and employment for all learners. Learning that is currently uncounted will be captured and validated, marrying informal and formal learning as a normal practice of the nation’s talent development system.

Incremental credentialing provides multiple pathways and arrays of opportunities for learners at all levels to meet their goals. It also has the potential to decrease the confusion and chaos around the current multitude of existing credentials which sit outside the traditional educational system. A nationally recognized transformed system needs to be purposeful and designed around learner-centered principles that align learning and working.

Creating Pathways with Incremental Credentialing