Credentials matter at the postsecondary level just as much – if not more – than they do in K-12. However, the landscape of postsecondary credential attainment, alignment with employer demand and data collection is much more complicated. Consider that most states do not collect or aggregate credential attainment data at the state level.
Why is postsecondary credential attainment important?
As the job market increasingly requires educational attainment beyond a high school diploma, there is an increased emphasis on the importance and value of industry-recognized credentials in the postsecondary sector. Almost all states (44) have set postsecondary education attainment goals as part of a strategy to ensure their citizens have the knowledge and skills required for success in their unique economies (Lumina Foundation).
Non-degree credentials such as certificates and licenses have been shown to have significant impact on earning potential and increasing economic mobility, according to the Strada Education Network and the Lumina Foundation. The study found that certificate holders make an average of $15,000 more than non-certificate holding peers and were also more likely to be full-time employees.
The variable pathways to earning postsecondary credentials allow for greater flexibility in charting career opportunities and expanding workplace skills towards high-skill, high-wage, high-demand careers. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences found that impactful programs shared a common ability to “align directly with specific employer needs and competencies in skill-based fields.”
Why are only four states included for postsecondary data?
Outreach was made to all states to collect both qualitative and quantitative data. Twenty-nine states completed the survey, but only 4 states provided postsecondary credential attainment data. The primary conclusion of these efforts is that postsecondary data remains largely uncollected at the state level.
Barriers to Collecting Postsecondary Credential Attainment:
- CIP Code and Coursework Focus: In some cases, states collected partial or incomplete data more focused on coursework rather than credentials earned. For example, a state may know that a student completed coursework for a Welding Certificate but would not know if the student subsequently took and passed an associated credential exam(s) to earn the industry credential.
- Collecting only partial data: Some states collected credential attainment data through survey data for specific purposes to be used by individual institutions, but they had no comprehensive data collection methods in place across their entire postsecondary system(s).
- Siloes across postsecondary systems: Postsecondary institutions are substantially more siloed than K-12 systems. We found that individual community colleges may collect credential attainment data, but they may not report them to the broader system or network of postsecondary institutions. K-12 CTE Directors also often could not identify an equivalent role in the postsecondary system, pointing to a lack of ownership of industry credential data collection at the postsecondary level.
States that do not collect data have no way to assess the alignment of the credentials they offer- and the credentials students earn – with those demanded in the workforce. This creates a disadvantage for students who are investing time and money into earning these credentials and for employers in need of a qualified workforce.
Policy recommendations are consistent across K-12 and postsecondary and can be found on the Recommendations tab in Credentials 101. Having one set of six strong recommendations helps to reduce the risk of increasing already existing silos across the two education systems.