SMLR Report Urges Quality Controls for Non-Degree Credential Programs
Thursday, Aug 08, 2019

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Sweeping reforms are needed to help consumers make informed decisions about short-term job training programs and other non-degree credentials, according to a report released today by the Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center at the School of Management and Labor Relations. More than 25 percent of Americans hold a non-degree credential, ranging from certified home health aides and cosmetologists to electricians and plumbers. Bipartisan legislation to expand Pell grant eligibility could push that number even higher. Yet, there is no agreed-upon method of defining or measuring quality—leading to some concerns about predatory programs taking advantage of vulnerable consumers.

“Despite their rising popularity, the environment in which these credentials are developed and awarded is a bit like the Wild West,” said Michelle Van Noy, associate director of the Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center and co-author of the report. “There is no single set of standards, no mechanism or system to help workers, employers, policymakers, and educational institutions to define quality or to measure it. As a result, confusion about non-degree credentials reigns.”

Supported by a grant from Lumina Foundation, Van Noy and fellow Rutgers researchers Heather McKay and Suzanne Michael analyzed the non-degree credential landscape and developed a conceptual framework to measure the quality of sub-baccalaureate certificates, non-credit certificates, industry certifications, occupational and professional licenses, apprenticeships, badges, and micro credentials.

The report recommends measuring the quality of non-degree credentials in four key areas:

  • Credential Design: The credential program should be designed with industry input and updated to remain relevant in the labor market. Credentials should be accessible, affordable, and stackable with other credentials to advance along an educational pathway.
  • Competencies: The credential should signal the acquisition of general knowledge, specialized skills, personal skills, and social skills.  
  • Translational Processes: A credential holds little value if no one has heard of it. Credential registries, surveys, industry endorsements, and third-party validations can help to build recognition. Some of the most valuable credentials are required by employers or state law for entry into a given profession.
  • Outcomes: Credentials can open the door to job placement, promotions, and higher earnings, but those are not the only important outcomes. Quality credentials can also serve as a bridge to additional education, and they can help employers to improve recruitment, retention, and productivity.

The report makes the following recommendations to stakeholders:

  • Educational Institutions: College and universities should examine how non-credit coursework flows into their credit-bearing programs through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and other means. Educational institutions should also collect and report data on non-degree credentials.
  • Employers: At an organizational level, employers should discuss the skills required for different jobs and which non-degree credentials deliver those skills. This should be built into HR practice. In addition, employers should document both formal training and informal learning that occurs in the workplace.
  • Policymakers: No state currently collects comprehensive data on non-degree credentials, though some are now in the process of creating systems to measure quality. This should be done in all 50 states, with the goal of creating registries and publicly available information on quality for consumers. Federal and state policymakers should also consider incentivizing data collection efforts.

Consistent quality standards would benefit all stakeholders, according to the report. Educators would have more information on how non-degree credentials fit into their pathways; employers would be able to better assess the skills of job candidates and employees up for promotion; government agencies would be able to make strategic investments of federal and state training dollars; and consumers would be empowered with facts to make informed decisions about whether to enroll in a program. This is especially important for low-wage earners for whom time and money are scarce.

“This report provides an important framework to help employers, policymakers, learning providers and other community stakeholders understand how to measure the quality of non-degree credentials,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina’s Vice President of Strategic Impact. “Lumina is honored to contribute to this framework and eager to learn how the field uses this resource to advance the goal of providing high-quality educational opportunities and credentials for today’s students.” 

Click here for the full report and video summarizing the key recommendations.

Press Contact

Steve Flamisch
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
848.252.9011 (cell)

About Us

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Education and Employment Research Center conducts research and evaluation on policies and practice at the intersection of education and employment, including education to career pathways, learning strategies, student decision making, and workforce system and employer partnerships.

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. The foundation envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Lumina’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.