1. Establish clear definitions and criteria for credentials of value—with business and industry at the table.  

Clear definitions help ensure that all stakeholders (agencies, employers, students, etc.) use a common framework and language to understand the knowledge and skills represented by each credential. Consistent, rigorous criteria for each definition help all stakeholders understand the value associated with each credential in the labor market in terms of employment, wage premia and career advancement. These definitions and criteria should align with established skill, wage and demand criteria used to determine the state’s priority occupations and industries.  

States can codify a process that leverages these definitions and criteria to annually review, identify and approve the state’s valued credentials across k-12, postsecondary and workforce development systems

States That Set Clear Definitions and Criteria 

  • Promote high-value credentials that carry currency with employers and lead to improved outcomes for students and state economies 
  • Address existing skills gaps and identify new or emerging occupations 
  • Provide clear signals about the value of credentials

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, labor and economic development, employers 

2. Collect data on industry credential offerings and attainment across secondary and postsecondary systems.

Credential offerings data provide insights into the alignment of credentials and career pathways (including CTE programs) with workforce needs. Credential attainment data provides insights into local program quality and equity in student access and success. States can establish consistent student-level credential data collection responsibilities, expectations, business rules and reporting processes across secondary and postsecondary systems. Once collected, these data allow states to analyze the statewide landscape of credential offerings and attainment – in other words, the state’s talent pipeline – and develop strategies to increase alignment, improve quality, ensure equity and maximize return on investment across systems. 

States That Collect Credential Offerings and Attainment Data 

  • Know which credentials are being offered and which students earn each credential 
  • Can analyze the alignment between the credentials students earn and the credentials employers value 
  • Can develop data-driven strategies to increase alignment, quality and equity in local offerings. 

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, credentialing entities 

3. Strengthen data quality.

High-quality credential data are reliable, valid, complete and consistent. Collecting credential data directly from credentialing entities (rather collecting self-reported data) significantly increases credential data quality. Complete credential data includes information about individual students’ credential attempts, attainment and raw scores, where available. It also contains sufficient personally identifiable information that allow states to match student-level credential data with student records across secondary, postsecondary and longitudinal data systems. 

States can establish data-sharing agreements with vendors of the state’s valued credentials to directly collect individual student attainment data and eliminate or minimize self-reporting. States could consider developing statewide data-sharing agreements that span secondary and postsecondary systems and students. They can also harness collective buying power by collaborating with other states to negotiate data-sharing agreements with credentialing entities that increase administrative efficiency and data consistency.  

States That Strengthen Data Quality 

  • Make decisions and develop strategies based on more valid, reliable and complete credential data. 
  • Integrate high-quality data into longitudinal systems to analyze quality, equity, impact and return on investment of specific credentials and aligned career pathways. 
  • Can leverage data on credentials earned, failed attempts and raw scores to improve instruction and professional development. 
  • Remove the administrative burden of self-reporting credential data for local educators and administrators. 

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, credentialing entities 

4. Regularly evaluate and provide transparent reporting of student outcomes associated with credential attainment.  

States should publicly report student credential attainment data that can be disaggregated by district, school, postsecondary institution, career pathway/program, student group(s) and long-term outcomes related to educational attainment, employment and wages. Transparent reporting should allow stakeholders to differentiate between high-value and lower-value credentials, understand the workforce outcomes of students who earn each credential, and compare the program quality and equity. Students and families can use this information to make more informed choices about the career opportunities, pathways and credentials they pursue. 

Additionally, states should align all applicable federal and state accountability and transparency systems to leverage the state’s high-value credential criteria and data collection processes. This helps to prioritize high-value credential attainment across schools, districts and postsecondary institutions – and eliminate mixed messages and unintended incentives. This may require states to identify and revise or remove policy, accountability and/or funding structures that currently promote low-value credentials. 

States That Evaluate and Report Credential Attainment Data 

  • Provide consistent information to all stakeholders about the effectiveness and impact of credential attainment on long-term student outcomes. 
  • Emphasize the importance of equity in access and outcomes across student groups and communities. 
  • Prioritize high-value credential attainment by aligning accountability and transparency measures across agencies. 

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, labor and economic development, employers, students and families.

5. Expand access to and equity in high-value career pathway and credential offerings. 

States should incorporate high-quality, student-level credential data into a regular audit of the state’s CTE program. This includes an analysis of trends across schools/institutions and student groups in terms of access, aligned program enrollment and high-value credential attainment. This analysis helps to identify equity gaps and develop strategies to support all students in earning high-value credentials – and ensure that specific groups of students are not being “tracked” into programs that lead to low-value credentials and dead-end, low-wage jobs. 

States should develop strategies to remove identified barriers that prevent students from earning valued credentials. For example, states can remove financial barriers for students by providing recurring funding to offset fees associated with high-value credential exams. They can also develop policies and/or allocate funding to leverage resources across secondary and postsecondary systems to increase high-value credential attainment. 

States can prioritize high-value credential attainment and equity by investing new funds or restructuring existing funding mechanisms. They can develop or expand a credential incentive policy that financially rewards K-12 schools and/or postsecondary institutions based on high-value credential attainment. They can also incorporate high-value credential attainment (performance-based funding) into postsecondary funding structures.  

States That Expand Access to and Equity in High-Value Credential Offerings 

  • Ensure all students can earn credentials that lead to high-skill, high-wage, in-demand careers. 
  • Close skills gaps by increasing the number of students with the knowledge and skills valued by employers. 
  • Expand the state’s skilled talent pipeline to reflect the state’s diversity. 

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, credentialing entities 

6. Clearly communicate the value of credentials across sectors and audiences. 

All stakeholders – students and families first among them – need consistent, complete information about credentials to drive their decisions. However, there is not a single source of complete information about the potential opportunities, costs and benefits of each credential. States can play an important role in engaging stakeholders to synthesize and disseminate actionable and consistent information about the value, benefits, costs, risks and opportunities associated with each credential – and the larger role that credentials play in students’ college and career readiness.  

Secondary, postsecondary and workforce development systems should clearly communicate how each credential fits into a career pathway. Postsecondary systems can develop consistent statewide policies that determine how credentials can be used to award postsecondary credits and/or hours within specific courses, programs or degrees. Credentialing entities should communicate the knowledge and skills measured by each credential, as well as any changes to the credentials offered. Employers should articulate hiring, wage and advancement advantages related to specific credentials, and improve employer signaling and consistency by clarifying required credentials and skills in job postings.  

States That Clearly Communicate the Value of Credentials 

  • Empower all stakeholders to make informed decisions about their investments in credentials and aligned career pathways. 
  • Send consistent messages about the content, value and opportunities offered by each credential across K-12, postsecondary and workforce development systems. 
  • Maintain strong partnerships with all stakeholders to ensure career pathways and credentials are responsive to workforce needs. 

Key Stakeholders

K-12, postsecondary, labor and economic development, employers, credentialing entities, students and families