One of the core components of a high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) program is that it culminates in a credential of value. But with more than 4,000 credentialing organizations in the United States today, states are grappling with the challenge of narrowing down the field.
Advance CTE today released a policy brief to help states get started in this work. The paper, titled “Credentials of Value: State Strategies for Identifying and Endorsing Industry-Recognized Credentials,” highlights promising practices from Florida, Kansas and Louisiana, which have each made considerable progress developing a system for students and employers to navigate the tangled universe of credentials. The brief further describes how each state tackles the challenge in a different way, building a system that suits their local economy and context, and highlights a few common strategies.
For one, these states engage business and industry leaders early on in the process to verify that credentials are recognized and accepted in the labor market. This helps ensure that students are only pursuing — and states are only incentivizing — those credentials that have value. One example that the brief explores is in Louisiana, where regional teams are required to submit letters of endorsement from businesses in the state whenever they propose a new credential for the statewide list.
From there, the process of vetting high-quality credentials often involves a concerted effort from a variety of different institutions. The brief describes how, in Florida, the state-approved credential list at the secondary level is developed with input from the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Agency for Workforce Innovation, the state’s workforce development board (an independent non-profit called CareerSource Florida) and the Department of Education. This ensures that the state can leverage the expertise of each agency to approve only those credentials that are valuable to students and to the economy.
Another challenge the brief explores is that credentials available on the market today range in value, quality and the effort required to earn them. Thus, states have begun to recognize this difference and classify credentials based on their rigor and utility in the labor market. Kansas, for example, is examining a framework that categorizes credentials into three tiers: those required by law or regulation, those mandated by industry, and those preferred by industry.
Even then, states should be prepared to adapt to fluctuations in the labor market or unforeseen problems with the credential review process. Take Florida’s Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE) for example. CAPE provided additional funding for teachers and school districts whose students earn state-approved credentials, but the state soon realized that the program was not structured appropriately to eliminate some gaming of the funding incentive. Over the years, Florida has gradually adjusted the funding formula to address these concerns and align incentives to encourage more students to earn high-quality credentials.
With two-thirds of all new jobs projected to require some postsecondary education and training by 2020, there is a growing need for states to play a larger role in identifying and endorsing credentials of value.
Austin Estes, Policy Associate