Connecting Credentials Shares New Recommendations

Bryan Wilson and Evelyn Ganzglass
December 22, 2017

Connecting Credentials is a collaborative effort of more than 120 national organizations, including WDQC, for the purpose of making credentials easier to understand and use. Credentials include degrees, certificates, diplomas, certifications, licenses, and micro-credentials such as digital badges. In 2017, Connecting Credentials convened five workgroups to recommend action steps to address the credentialing needs and priorities of diverse learners, especially adults with no recognized postsecondary education. WDQC Director Bryan Wilson and American Youth Policy Forum Executive Director Betsy Brand co-chaired the Learner Mobility workgroup.

The Learner Mobility workgroup tackled the question: How can we improve credential stackability and portability, especially for adults with little or no prior postsecondary education?  Credentials such as certifications, certificates, and badges can often be obtained quickly and enable individuals to enter skilled employment. Short-term credentials, however, should not mark the end of educational attainment. They should instead be stackable credentials aligned with higher levels of educational attainment and career advancement.

Steps that states, institutions, and federal policymakers can take to improve learner mobility include:

1.      Educate employers, students and educators on the importance of short-term credentials in the credentialing marketplace.

2.      Increase the value of learning represented by short-term credentials in education to increase learners’ access to further learning.

3.      Expand use of performance or competency-based approaches in credentialing.

4.      Use federal policy to support learner mobility and pathways that extend from the attainment of short-term credentials through associate degrees and beyond.

Specific actions include: Improve data collection on the educational and labor market outcomes of short-term credit-bearing and noncredit programs and students in these programs; align short-term noncredit education with credit-bearing longer-term programs of study to facilitate learner progression and eliminate dead ends; allow greater flexibility and more experimentation in using competency based education; and extend eligibility for Higher Education Act Title IV financial aid to students in short-term training programs.

Closely related recommendations were developed by the workgroup on Building Trust in the Quality of Credentials. “Trust is the firm belief that a credential is reliable, accurate, comprehensive, up to date, and/or of high value.”

According to the Building Trust workgroup report:

We need quality assurance processes to become more transparent and aligned with workforce needs and to promote adherence to, and continuous improvement of, these standards. We need more complete and comprehensive data collection and research/evaluation efforts to produce evidence of credential outcomes and value. We need increased transparency and much greater investment in guidance to help users make informed choices about a credential’s value for their purposes. To make informed choices, consumers, especially “first-generation learners,” need help and context to understand what data are important, what the data mean, and how to rely on evidence and data to make decisions.

The Building Trust workgroup recommendations include:

  • Use federal regulatory authority to encourage integration of certifications into academic programs of study.
  • Improve federal and state data collection and reporting, and encourage public/private data partnerships to build stronger evidence for the value of credentials.
  • Use federal policy to promote greater outcomes-based quality assurance and oversight of innovative certificate, non-degree and degree programs.

Other workgroups addressed additional challenges:

  • Equipping Adult Learners to Attain Market-Valued Postsecondary Credentials: How do we equip and empower adults with no postsecondary credential to navigate, persist and succeed in selecting and attaining postsecondary credentials that lead to educational and economic advancement? 
  • Aligning Demand and Supply Signals: What should be done to better align diverse credentialing processes and products with emerging employer hiring practices so that job applicants are evaluated based on what they know and can do, rather than who they know and where they went to school?
  • Making All Learning Count: How can we reliably and consistently recognize learning that takes place in informal and workplace settings?

The many recommendations include:

  • High quality student advising and navigational support
  • Funders should invest in the development of consistent ways of assessing 21st century skills so that employers can assign value to them.
  • Employers, learning institutions and funders should collaborate in the development and refinement of quality micro-credentials.
  • Expand the models for Comprehensive Student Records beyond institutions.

For the full set of workgroup reports, see here.  We encourage you to join Connecting Credentials and to work with WDQC on implementing these recommendations.


Evelyn Ganzglass is Co-Director of Connecting Credentials.

WDQC is a project of National Skills Coalition.