By: Austin Estes, Policy Associate, Advance CTE

Industry-recognized credentials—specifically, non-degree credentials that are valued within a specific industry sector—provide value to the nation’s 11.8 million Career Technical Education (CTE) students by giving them the means to communicate their knowledge and skills to employers in their field. But as we celebrate this year’s CTE month, it’s worth asking the question: what can students get out of an industry-recognized credential?

Consider the following:

  • Earning certain industry-recognized credentials increases the likelihood of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with a certification or license was 3.1 percentage points lower than those without
  • Industry-recognized credentials lead to higher wages. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds that workers with a certificate as their highest level of education make 20 percent more than workers with just a high school diploma.

Yet, confusion and lack of transparency prevent learners and employers from taking full advantage of industry-recognized credentials. The universe of earnable credentials—which includes certificates, certifications, licenses, and degrees—is vast, and students and employers often lack information about which credentials actually have value in the labor market; a problem Credential Engine is directly tackling. Advance CTE believes this lack of data transparency often contributes to the emphasis on two-year and four-year degrees in hiring decisions, which skews the market for both students and employers.

While states are placing bigger and bigger bets on industry-recognized credentials—particularly in high school CTE programs—many are taking measures to help students identify credentials that will help them transition to meaningful careers. To do this, gathering and strategically utilizing relevant data, including input from key industry leaders, is essential.

Louisiana is one such state working to align credentialing opportunities with industry demand, primarily through its statewide high school accountability system. In Louisiana, the school report card, which is used to hold high schools accountable for student success, recognizes students who earn industry-recognized credentials that have been approved by the state in high school. Under the “Strength of Diploma” indicator, these credentials carry the same weighted as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, incentivizing schools to graduate more students with these state-approved credentials.

The credentials measured in Louisiana’s accountability system are identified and vetted by the Workforce Investment Council, which maintains a list of state-approved industry credentials. The council receives submissions from employers in the state and uses rigorous criteria to determine which credentials make the cut. These criteria include:

  • Providing opportunities for employment in high-demand, high-wage occupations.
  • Having portability across the state, across the country and/or internationally.
  • Receiving letters of support from at least three Louisiana employers.

This process is essential for students enrolled in Louisiana’s Jump Start career pathways. Jump Start was launched in 2014 and provides students with the education and skills they need for entry-level work across a multitude of industries. Each pathway is anchored by an industry-recognized credential, helping students transition into the workforce or further education. Only credentials that have been vetted by the Workforce Investment Council are used in Jump Start pathways.

As states continue to build new ways to help students transition from classroom to career, a thoughtful use of data and a commitment to transparency will be critical in order to ensure students can make credentialing decisions that lead to real career pathways – not just hypothetical ones.

More and more states are taking steps to expand opportunities to high school students. Many are integrating measures of credential attainment into their state accountability systems. Others, like Florida and Kansas, are building systems to vet and incentivize the attainment of industry-recognized credentials. Whatever the approach, the evidence is clear: industry-recognized credentials, and particularly those approved by states, help students prepare for the real world, and states are taking the lead to provide transparency and guide students to success.

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