How to Navigate the Credentialing Maze

By Louis Soares

August 18, 2015

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ACE’s  Louis Soares and Jason A. Tyszko of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation explore the work being undertaken by the Credential Transparency Initiative.

This is part of Lumina Foundation’s National Dialogue on building a learning-based, student-centered credentialing system. Also related is a recent paper released by ACE on “Rethinking Credentialing.”

Over the past decade, there has been a stunning increase in the number and variety of credentials available in this country—college degrees, educational certificates, industry credentials, licensures, and most recently micro-credentials, such as digital badges. On the surface, this diversity of credentials seems like a positive. Learners have more opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills in a variety of ways. However, the complex and fragmented nature of the credentialing marketplace is having the opposite effect—mass confusion.

The recent explosion of credentials has exacerbated a problem that has been long in the making. For many employers, workers, job seekers, and students, credentials can be a black box in terms of their quality, value, and return on investment. While credentials are often perceived as the gateway to upward economic and social mobility, they have become caught up in a “buyer beware” environment where students and workers are left on their own to navigate what is increasingly looking like a credentialing maze.

A coherent and transparent credentialing marketplace is critical not only for higher education and their students, but for those employers seeking a skilled workforce that can help them grow and compete in today’s global economy. Employers need to make smart hiring decisions. In order to do that, they need to know the knowledge and skills a credential holder has and how they compare to others with different credentials.

For those investing precious time and limited resources into obtaining credentials, they need to know what they will be qualified to do and what type of returns they can expect upon completion. Even credentialing organizations stand to benefit from having a better understanding of the quality, value and effectiveness of their credentials and the results they bring for recipients.

The need is clear, but what is to be done about it?

Solutions to date leave much to be desired. These range from complicated and seldom used consumer information websites to heavy-handed government regulations. We need a new and more comprehensive solution—one that builds on best practices and enables market diversity, not limits it.

Recently the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP), Workcred—an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—and Southern Illinois University received a grant from Lumina Foundation to lead the Credential Transparency Initiative in an effort to bring coherence and clarity to the U.S. credentialing marketplace. They plan to achieve this by building the first-of-its kind “credential registry.” This open and voluntary registry builds on longstanding industry practices for enabling comparability and interoperability of products and services.

In the case of a credential registry, web-based tools can be used to easily compare the quality and value of credentials across a wide variety of characteristics, such as competencies and labor market value. Imagine if you could compare credentials the same way you compare the features of two smart phones through a retail website.

To oversee this project, an Executive Committee has been formed to guide the initiative and ensure it is built in a way that addresses the needs of those stakeholders that seek to use and benefit from a credential registry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the American Council on Education are excited to co-chair the Committee, which also includes the American Association of Community Colleges, the Manufacturing Institute, Business Roundtable, and the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board.

Rather than imposing top-down regulations or picking winners and losers among credentials, the registry provides a neutral but information-rich platform that will enable a simple market-based solution to a complex problem. This solution embraces the diversity of the credentialing marketplace while offering a compass to help find our way based on the criteria that are most important to us, whether we are students, colleges, or employers.

To learn more about the Credential Transparency Initiative visit

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please contact us.

About the Author

Louis Soares

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