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Six states join NSC’s postsecondary policy academy

  ·   By Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield
Six states join NSC’s postsecondary policy academy

More than ever before, postsecondary education and training has become essential to the nation’s economic mobility and growth. State leaders have recognized the critical importance of postsecondary attainment in meeting equity and economic goals. Credentials are a key component of state postsecondary attainment goals and COVID-19 responses, helping workers obtain better jobs and serving to reconnect them to further postsecondary education and training opportunities.

In light of this, National Skills Coalition has been working with six state teams as part of our 2020-2021 Quality Postsecondary Credentials State Policy Academy: Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia. Through the Academy, state agency teams will work together to advance a high-quality postsecondary skills strategy so more residents can attain quality credentials.

As part of the academy, which runs through summer 2021, state agencies commit to:

1)     Define quality non-degree credentials

2)     develop a policy agenda to increase the number of residents with quality credentials, and

3)     develop data policies to support such efforts.

The state teams are led by a Governor’s education and/or workforce policy advisor, the state higher education agency leader, and the labor or workforce agency leader, with membership drawn from agency leaders representing economic development, human services, elementary and secondary education, and the state community and technical college system. Some states also include external stakeholders, including policy advocates from SkillSPAN, NSC’s network of nonpartisan state coalitions expanding skills training for people through state policy changes.

Teams will work together along with ongoing support from NSC and will have opportunities to learn from subject matter experts and practitioner experts and participate in peer-to-peer learning.

The policy academy builds on the work NSC conducted in 2019 with twelve states to develop a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials (NDCs). Read our Expanding Opportunities: Defining Quality Non-Degree Credentials for States report to learn more about the process.

The six states teams are working toward adopting the consensus criteria and developing processes to identify quality non-degree credentials. These include:

1)     Substantial job opportunities,

2)     transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders, and

3)     evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential.

Strongly preferred criteria include: stackability to additional education and training.

States teams have the flexibility to design the process that best fits their environment. To date, Alabama, Colorado, and Oregon have adopted the consensus quality criteria. A consistent nationwide definition would make it easier for workers and job seekers to find and sustain employment, by ensuring that credentials of value in one state are also recognized in other states.

For workers, a quality NDC definition and quality assurance systems can help save time and money by helping them understand their options and the likely employment and earnings outcomes associated with specific programs.

For businesses, a quality NDC definition and quality assurance system can make it easier to identify talent and address emerging skill needs.

For education and training providers, a quality NDC framework provides clear guidance on which credentials they should offer and how to think about designing new credentials or program offerings with an eye to both return on investment from students and maximizing alignment with labor market needs.

For state policymakers, a quality NDC framework can provide a range of options for improving economic opportunities for residents and businesses alike. Policymakers can use the definition to set clear targets for NDC attainment.

Establishing a quality NDC criteria can help align and support performance accountability under federal workforce and education laws. By adopting a quality NDC definition, states can protect against increasing equity gaps by ensuring people of color, women, those with disabilities, and other underserved populations are not steered toward low-quality NDCs.

In the next stage of the project, states will identify and advance policies that can support and scale attainment of quality credentials. These may include expanding state financial aid programs and other training funds to support the attainment of quality NDCs, expanding career counseling, expanding non-tuition supportive services, supporting the development of industry partnerships, expanding apprenticeship and other work-based learning models, and supporting stackable credentials, such as the development of career pathways models and adopting statewide policies for credit articulation.

States will also design and implement data systems and policies to track access to and completion of quality credentials and resulting employment/earnings outcomes. States will also collect and use demographic data, including race and ethnicity, to help the state see if postsecondary attainment and career success are available to all residents.

The Academy will run until June 2021.

If you are interested in learning more about the Academy or NSC’s work on quality non-degree credentials, please contact Senior Fellow Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield at

Posted In: Postsecondary Education
Skills mismatch: Lack of access to skills training hurts workers and businesses

National Skills Coalition’s newly updated fact sheets demonstrate the national and state demand for skills training and skilled workers to fill the in-demand jobs that define and support the American economy.

Every day, in communities across our nation, workers seek out opportunities to ensure their families can thrive. At the same time, businesses are anxious to hire skilled workers—people trained for jobs in growing industries like healthcare, medical technology, IT and software, and advanced manufacturing—as well as tradespeople like plumbers and electricians.

These jobs [1], which require education and training that falls between a high school diploma and a four-year degree, are the backbone of the American economy and they depend on a skilled workforce ready to fill them.

For many workers and families, skills training (including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or two-year degrees) is a ticket into the middle class. And for employers, skills training is a valuable investment in their workforce, business productivity, and long-term success.

But too few people have access to the skills training and education needed to fill the jobs that power our economy. (See chart.) The mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills that in-demand jobs require leaves opportunity on the table. Skills training is the key to filling in-demand jobs—yet without access to skills training and education, workers are locked out of opportunities to succeed.

America’s workforce is its premier economic asset. Unlocking workers’ access to skills training prioritizes what workers and businesses need to fill in-demand jobs in a 21st century economy.

States can respond to this skills mismatch by adopting policies to expand equitable access to skills training, credentials and in-demand careers—particularly for communities who face structural or systemic barriers to participation, like low-income populations, people of color, and immigrants.

Individual employers can similarly invest in their incumbent workforce through in-house or external skills training opportunities facilitated by trusted partners like community colleges and local training providers.

Find out more and download your state’s skills mismatch fact sheet here.

[1] Sometimes called “middle-skill jobs”


Posted In: Work-Based Learning, Postsecondary Education, Upskilling
Defining quality non-degree credentials is crucial to putting students on a path to success

If states want to build an inclusive economy where all workers and all businesses have the skills they need to stay competitive in a rapidly changing global marketplace, everyone must work together to expand access to and attainment of degrees and credentials of value. Non-degree credentials, such as certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeship certificates, and occupational licenses, are a key component of state economic development and credential attainment goals, helping workers obtain better jobs and serving to reconnect them to further postsecondary education and training opportunities. In Expanding Opportunities: Defining quality non-degree credentials for states, National Skills Coalition (NSC) proposes a consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials (quality NDCs) and criteria developed in consultation with twelve leading states and national organizations, that states can adopt for their own quality assurance systems in order to make sensible budget and policy decisions and advance equity, putting students on a path to success.

The criteria identified should allow state policymakers to be comfortable supporting quality NDC programs with public funds, students to be confident about selecting high-quality training, and employers to understand which programs are effectively preparing students for careers. Consistent with NSC’s recommendation in The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An imperative for workforce development advocates, the quality NDC criteria can also help states address racial and other equity gaps by providing more pathways into quality postsecondary education and training and good jobs for people of color. A quality NDC definition can also help state policymakers identify and invest in new and emerging credentials that can help workers upskill quickly in response to technological changes and can help displaced workers figure out the right next steps as they transition to new occupations or industries.

To achieve the goal of developing a consensus definition of quality NDCs, NSC engaged with twelve states that had already established or were in the process of developing quality assurance criteria and processes for NDCs, and sought feedback from a range of national and state higher education and workforce development officials and local practitioners.

General Principles for Defining a Quality Non-Degree Credential

A quality credential provides individuals with the means to achieve their informed employment and educational goals. Individuals cannot achieve their employment goals without meeting the needs of employers.

  • The definition should support equitable credential attainment.
  • There must be valid and reliable, transparent evidence that the credential satisfies the criteria that constitute quality.
  • States should have discretion in making operational decisions such as determining whether to combine criteria in a composite rating, while still safeguarding quality.
  • States must have a public process to determine which credentials are quality, a process that ensures integrity and includes input from key stakeholders and an appeals process.

Definition and Criteria

A quality NDC is one that provides individuals with the means to equitably achieve their informed employment and educational goals. There must be valid, reliable, and transparent evidence that the credential satisfies the criteria that constitute quality.

Four criteria should be considered for a credential to be identified as a quality credential. NSC recommends the first three criteria be required and the fourth—stackability—be strongly preferred. Each criterion stands not alone but as part of a package.

Required Criteria:

  • There must be evidence of substantial job opportunities associated with the credential. Evidence must include quantitative data and direct communication with employers.
  • There must be transparent evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders; competencies that align with expected job opportunities. A definition of a quality credential need not include any standard regarding length of time.
  • There must be evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential.

Strongly Preferred Criterion:

  • The credential would ideally stack to additional education or training. The gold standard is that credentials stack to additional education or training, but there is not a universal pathway to reach this standard so states agreed it should not be an overarching required criterion in defining a quality credential.


One key set of policy decisions facing states is determining which programs or policies will be covered by the criteria, the entities within the state that are responsible for developing and implementing the criteria, and the process by which the criteria will be established. Adopting criteria that can be applied across multiple programs and systems can support greater alignment between education, workforce, and human services investments.

States must also decide if they will adopt policies that seek to increase attainment of quality NDCs as part of their overall educational attainment and economic development strategies.  These include expanding state financial aid and non-tuition supportive services for credential seekers, as well as strengthening career counseling capacity.  States should also consider supporting the development of industry partnerships, expanding apprenticeship and other work-based learning models, investing in Integrated education and training programs, and supporting stackable credentials.

Since NSC’s quality NDC criteria call upon states to utilize labor market data to determine substantial job opportunities and to use credential and wage records to measure the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining credentials, states need to develop policies to improve data, determine quality, and measure credential attainment. For instance, if education and career outcomes are not equitable, states can use these data to find the appropriate levers to fix inequities.

To learn more, consult National Skills Coalition’s publication, Expanding Opportunities: Defining Quality Non-Degree Credentials for States.

Posted In: Postsecondary Education