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Quality, Trust, and Value of Incremental Credentials

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Recommendations to Ensure Quality, Trust, and Value

Quality, Trust, and Value of Incremental Credentials

Recommendations to Ensure Quality, Trust, and Value

A quality, trusted, and valuable credential generally encompasses multiple attributes, including accreditation, curricular rigor and assessment, alignment with industry standards and industry engagement, and an emphasis on ongoing professional development for faculty. Credentials with these attributes—and individuals who hold such credentials—are typically well regarded by employers, professional organizations, and the wider community. Pursuing such credentials can significantly enhance career prospects and professional mobility.

Many organizations provide guidance in developing and assessing quality, trust, and value in credentials. The following table contains recommendations commonly mentioned in the literature (see References). These recommendations can guide actions by key stakeholders as they establish policy and procedures. Approaches can vary based on the unique context and priorities of stakeholders.

Recommended Actions That Can Be Taken by Key Stakeholders States Employers Credential Providers  Accreditors
Establish quality assurance mechanisms for credential programs

·    Develop your own and/or use established frameworks, standards, or guidelines that define the criteria for quality and ensure they are consistently applied across different programs.

·    Evaluate and monitor credential programs by implementing accreditation and/or other approval processes to assess and validate the quality of credentials, conduct regular program reviews, and ensure adherence to quality standards and industry alignment.

·    Many tools are already available; stakeholders need not reinvent the wheel.

Develop standardized definitions of different types of credentials

·    Ease confusion about the many types and applicability of credentials in the marketplace by providing guidance on standardizing the definition of all credentials (e.g., certificate of achievement, certificate of apprenticeship, assessment-based certificate, industry certification, badge) across state agencies and credentialing programs.

·    Standardized definitions provide greater transparency about the purpose and elements of each credential, especially those that are time-limited and generally require renewal.

Develop credentials following quality curricular design principles and standards

·     Quality incremental credentials have clearly defined and measurable learning outcomes or competencies. Each increment should have specific goals and objectives that outline the knowledge, skills, and competencies that learners are expected to acquire.

·     A quality credential has a well-structured curriculum that builds on previous increments and provides a logical, transparent progression of learning. Curriculum should be relevant to industry demands; incorporate current trends, emerging technologies, and best practices in the field; embed industry certifications within degree programs when appropriate; and provide clear progression toward higher-level credentials and career advancement.

·     Establishing consistent quality criteria provides a benchmark for program evaluation and helps learners identify high-quality credentials.

Consider Faculty and Expertise

·    Review the qualifications and expertise of the faculty or instructors involved in delivering the credential or program.

·    Seek experienced practitioners or subject matter experts who have relevant industry knowledge and teaching skills. They can help ensure the program's relevance and applicability.

Prioritize industry-driven credentials, engagement, and standards

·     Engage employers, professional associations, and industry experts in the design, development, and review of credential programs. A survey (reference)of employers found 60% are extremely or very likely to use an established alternative credential. And if their organization worked with a college to develop a credential, most employers want to be involved in designing the curriculum (27% said they want to be extremely active in the design, 46% want to be very active).

·     Foster strong partnerships with employers, industry associations, and workforce-development entities to ensure relevance and value of by aligning credentials with industry needs.

·     Promote industry-recognized standards for non-degree credentials. This involves identifying and endorsing industry-recognized certifications or credentials that have established credibility and value in specific sectors. Recognizing these standards can help individuals and employers navigate the credential landscape and make informed choices.

Enhance credential transparency

·    To promote transparency, give prospective learners accurate and comprehensive information about credentials. This may include creating centralized databases or portals that list approved programs, their outcomes, associated costs, and potential career pathways.

·    Transparent information helps learners make informed decisions and reduces the risk of low-quality credentials.

·    Transparency helps employers identify relevant credentials.

Support data collection/reporting

·    Collect and report data on the array of credentials being offered, including completion data, employment outcomes, and learning satisfaction.

·    Require evidence for program development and approval processes, including data collection and reporting.

·    Robust data collection and evaluation enable states to assess the effectiveness of their credentials, identify areas for improvement, and inform policy decisions.

·     Transparent reporting of outcomes data helps learners, employers, and policymakers make informed decisions.

Facilitate credit transfer/articulation

·     Quality credentials give learners the flexibility to transfer earned credits or credentials to other educational programs or institutions.

·    Support articulation and credit transfer programs to facilitate non-credit and credit pathways. This allows individuals to build on incremental credentials by easily transferring earned credits and applying them to further education, such as degree programs.

·    Assess whether the incremental credentials align with existing pathways or can serve as building blocks for higher-level credentials, including degrees.

·    Encourage partnerships between credentialing organizations and educational institutions to promote seamless articulation.

Invest in/provide credential guidance/support services

·    Invest in comprehensive credential guidance and support services. This can include providing information, resources, and counseling to help learners navigate credential options, understand their value, and make informed decisions.

·    Support services include initiatives to assist individuals in transitioning from non-degree credentials to further education or employment.

Ensure that industry certifications are accepted as college credit and embedded in degree programs

·    Encourage colleges and universities to embed industry certifications into relevant two-year, four-year, and graduate degree programs.

·    Many certifications can be used as significant milestones within degree programs. This can enable students to earn a certification while pursuing their degree or at the end of a degree program.

·    Certifications earned on the paths to degrees may improve students’ summer employment prospects and work-based learning experiences during the academic year. They can also lead to promotions and wage increases.

·    Such efforts increase opportunities for students, and help enable lifelong learning, particularly for adult students who are more likely to need more modular learning.

Connect non-degree credentials to other credentials and career pathways

·    Align various credentials with career pathways, for short-term education and career journeys and for the longer term.

·    Industry certifications are particularly useful because they are based on competencies; the competencies assessed in the certification process can be aligned with education and training programs as well as with other credentials to create a set of stackable credentials that form a career pathway.

Assess the quality of credentials

·     Quality credentials undergo continuous improvement and evaluation processes and employ methods that evaluate learners' progress and achievement outcomes.

·     Evidence of quality can come from ongoing assessment, feedback collection, and responsiveness to emerging trends or changing industry requirements. Assessments should align with the defined learning outcomes and measure the acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills. Methods include exams, projects, portfolios, practical demonstrations, and/or workplace simulations.

·     Issuing institutions and/or certification bodies should regularly review and update credentials to ensure their relevance, currency, and alignment with industry needs.

Invest in/provide professional development

·      Provide training, resources, and ongoing support (e.g., career navigation and advising) to help instructors and support staff  stay current with industry trends and teaching and advising methodologies. 



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