Moving from a Degree-Centric Postsecondary System to an Incremental Credentialing System: What Happens to Learners’ Financing Options?

Request for Proposal (RFP)



To enable a cohort of organizations and institutions to support their interests in incremental credentialing by using and testing resources developed by Credential As You Go

Proposal Application Form Due: October 28, 2022
Issue Date: September 15, 2022
Informational Webinar: September 29, 2022


Credential As You Go is an initiative calling for a nationally recognized incremental credentialing system to capture and validate uncounted learning that enables individuals to be recognized for what they know and can do. An incremental system recognizes that many types of credentials (e.g., degrees, certificates, industry certifications, licenses, badges, microcredentials) may document an individual’s learning, and that credentials are awarded by many types of providers including community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, third-party organizations, employers, military, and state licensing boards. 

Although incremental credentialing is not new, it is not the design of the U.S. learn-and-work system. There are increasing calls to link the array of credentials of value —degree and non-degree — into an understandable, coherent system. This requires a redesign of credentialing systems across states,  higher education institutions, and other credentialing organizations to reduce confusion, increase learning recognition, and integrate what people know and can do.


State systems of postsecondary education, colleges and universities, and other credentialing organizations have essential roles to play in the transformation of the U.S. degree-centric system to an incremental credentialing system. To assist state systems, institutions, and other credentialing organizations interested in engaging in these efforts, Credential As You Go is launching the Expansion and Adoption Initiative with the assistance of a grant from Walmart. The initiative is designed to support entities interested in developing and implementing new approaches to incremental credentialing. Applicants are encouraged to review the Credential As You Go website, which contains case-making around incremental credentialing and other resources, to inform their proposals. 

While no direct funds are available for participation, selected applicants will receive technical assistance at no charge, access to tools and resources, and the opportunity participate in a peer network to support their efforts. 


The U.S. postsecondary credentialing system is at a critical crossroad. Four key drivers are stimulating unheralded innovations to redesign our system: a dated degree-centric system, credential expansion, equity, and rapidly changing 21st Century workforce needs. 

Degree-centric System. The U.S. centuries-old four-tiered degree system (associate, baccalaureate, masters, doctorate/professional) is insurmountable for many and hinders those who do not complete any given tier. Some 39 million adults have some college and no degree; and another 81 million have no postsecondary experience at all (National Student Clearinghouse, 2022; US Census Bureau 2021). The role of credentialing is to seal learning into qualifications that are recognizable, transferable, and usable to gain and sustain employment and continue education. A system that treats individuals as if they have acquired no valuable knowledge or skills through prior college coursework and work and life experiences is not adequately serving the nation’s social and economic needs. 

Credential Expansion. The U.S. credential landscape is increasingly confusing and chaotic. There are nearly one million unique credentials awarded from four types of credential providers: postsecondary educational institutions; massive open online course providers (MOOCs); non-academic providers; and secondary schools (Credential Engine, 2021). The demand for new types of educational credentials—especially since the start of the pandemic — has grown substantially in the last five years, driven in part by growing demand for certificate programs and alternative credential offerings (Gallagher, 2021). The number of open badges awarded, for example, nearly doubled from 24 million in 2018 to 43 million in 2020 (Gallagher, 2021). As the acceptance of new types of credentials has grown, a number of employers have become learning providers in their own right —moving beyond training employees or providing tuition assistance to send staff members to higher education to also developing their own curricula and expanding their publicly-facing credential offerings (Gallagher & Zanville, 2021).

Equity. Credentialing is a serious equity issue. Degree completion by race-ethnicity reveals major disparities: 71% of Americans with degrees are white adults; 10%, African American; 10%, Latino; and 9%, Asian (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). Within-group comparisons show even greater differences between those with and without degrees: 53% of white learners have acquired a degree while only 32% have a high school degree or less; in contrast, 30% of Latinx learners have a degree and 57% have a high school degree or less; and 39% of African Americans are degreed and 43% have a high school degree or less. The remaining percentages represent those with some college, but no degree. African American adult learners have the highest percent (18%) with some college/no degree, and carry the highest student debt load (Hanson, 2020). Individuals without a postsecondary degree are at a disadvantage to obtain living-wage earnings. A fair postsecondary education system is needed to capture uncounted learning and validate that learning to enable all individuals to be recognized for what they know and can do. 

21st Century Workforce. The nation’s workforce is markedly different than it was 40 years ago. While employers still need workers with industry-specific knowledge and skills (often known as technical or hard skills), employers increasingly value 21st century skills (known by names such as human skills, power skills, and soft skills). Some employers struggle to find workers with the knowledge and skills to enable their companies to remain competitive because the competencies needed are often not well documented or credentialed; and some workers are finding that their knowledge and skills are no longer up to date and may even be obsolete as the workforce demands keep changing.  

The skills dilemma —what skills are needed, for which industry sectors and job levels, and who provides them —has important implications for workforce preparation and credentialing. Two findings in the literature are especially relevant to the call for an incremental credentialing system: (1) our system is underperforming in today’s fast-paced and changing world in which lifelong learning is essential; and (2) employers are struggling to find workers with 21st century skills (Zaber, Karoly & Whipkey, 2019). Educational institutions need the tools and support to adapt to the changing needs of learners of learners of all ages. 


This RFP invites state systems of higher education, Governors’ offices, community colleges and/or four-year institutions of higher education, and other credentialing organizations such as industry certification bodies to submit proposals to join the Credential As You Go initiative. 

Applicants must demonstrate their commitment in incremental credentialing to be considered for selection, though they may be at various stages of development:

  1. Incremental credentialing is at the design stage. 
  2. The applicant is at the early implementation stage with incremental credentialing. 
  3. The applicant is at the full implementation stage with respect to programming and policies.

Applicants must name a team of practitioners representing academics/faculty and/or subject matter experts, learner services, workforce development, research and technology representatives, and/or others they believe have an important role to contribute to this work.

Applicants selected to participate in the Credential As You Go/Expansion and Adoption Initiative must commit to use the Credential As You Go Framework and one or more of the Credential As You Go technical assistance resources (e.g., toolkits, playbooks, webinars, conferences) in their efforts to develop incremental credential approaches. Applicants selected to participate must also commit to participating in a review of the utility of Credential As You Go resources to meet the applicant’s purposes. Credential As You Go will be conducting a review to determine if participating entities are able to make progress in incremental credentialing using an array of resources. The purpose of the review is to test the efficacy of the resources, not the organization using them. Applicants will benefit from this test of resources by having a framework for development and the support of Credential As You Go throughout their incremental credentialing efforts. The review will include focus groups and brief surveys as applicants use the various services and resources provided to the cohort.

Applicants will be asked to indicate which of various technical assistance services they are most interested in on their Proposal Application Form. Such services include toolkits and playbooks, peer-to-peer networking, webinars and conferences, technical assistance from the Credential As You Go team of experts, access career /employer skills for credential curriculum alignment, access to quality frameworks, an inventory of state policies and examples of incremental credentials already developed. 


Benefits of participation. Participants will join a national community of leaders, practitioners, and stakeholders committed to changing the credentialing system. They will have access to (1)  tools and resources developed and deployed by their peers; (2) participation in a professional development learning network focused on Credential As You Go-related policies, practices, and implementation strategies; (3) technical assistance from the Credential As You Go team of experts; and (4) the opportunity to provide input and feedback on the efficacy of current tools and other needed resources related to incremental credentialing. 

Eligible applicants. A governor’s office, single state higher education agency, a state system of public institutions, individual public and private colleges and universities, and other credentialing organizations may submit proposals.

Proposal submission. Proposals must be submitted online using the Proposal Application Form below. 

Due date. Proposal Forms were due by Friday, October 28, by 5 p.m. EDT. 

RFP Information Webinar.  Credential As You Go hosted a webinar on September 29th from 1-2 p.m. EDT to discuss this RFP and answer prospective applicants’ questions. The Q&A from that session can be found here. The presentation is available here

Review of applications. Applications will be reviewed during November by the Credential As You Go team and a review group from the initiative’s National Advisory Board. 

Selection of applicants. Those invited to join the Initiative will be notified by December 1, 2022. All applicants will be notified of the outcomes of the review by December 1, 2022.

Memorandum of Understanding. An MOU will formalize the arrangement between the selected applicant and Credential As You Go. 

Duration. Participation in the Initiative will extend from December 15, 2022 to December 14, 2023.

Selection Rubric: All applications will be reviewed by the Credential As You Go team for completeness and eligibility. Eligible applications will be reviewed by a group of experts comprised of the Credential As You Go leadership team and members of its Advisory Board. Applications will be measured against the following rubric.



If selected, Entity commits to creating a team of related practitioners, participating in initiative activities, employing the Credential As You Go Framework, using one or more of Credential As You Go’s technical assistance resources, and participating in a review of the utility of Credential As You Go’s resources to meet the applicant’s purpose (Name and Signature of officially designated Agency or Institutional Leader)

Improving Education and Employment Outcomes