Embracing Credential Transparency to Connect Education with Work

Most high school seniors will spend the next several months thinking about college, filling out applications, writing essays, taking college entrance exams and visiting college campuses.  In all the excitement about getting accepted and planning their immediate futures, some may not be considering how their current plans align with their long-term goals—or know where to look for this type of information. 

In a world where there are nearly one million credentials of all types offered by the nation’s colleges, universities, training programs, boot camps and other education, it’s not always clear where a path from education to work starts or ends. That needs to change — and it’s currently underway.

In 2017, Indiana became the first state to sign on with Credential Engine, a national nonprofit that envisions credential transparency and open data as tools to  unlock the learn-and-earn ecosystem nationwide and help every learner make more informed decisions about the credentials they might pursue. 

Credentials come in a great range of varying content, cost, quality and value. It’s difficult for students to tell one from the next and for employers to know what a credential really means. Consumers have long been able to go online to compare restaurants, hotels and vehicles. Until recently, prospective students, hiring managers and state policymakers had no reliable way to evaluate an overwhelming array of education and training programs. 

Credential transparency illuminates the pathways that lead from education and training to jobs and careers. It’s essential public information that’s easy to access and navigate. It highlights the costs and benefits of each available credential so learners know exactly what the full investment — and exactly what they’ll get out of each program. Educators, policymakers and governments can use transparent credential data to discover high-demand jobs and missing skills. All parties can then use this data to devote resources to building accessible, reliable and equitable pathways that meet the needs of learners and companies as well as statewide economic development goals. 

In Indiana, we started with a narrow focus. We published all of the health-related credentials offered statewide because health care is so important to the state’s economy and the wellbeing of all Hoosiers. But it quickly became clear that we needed to do much more. Almost all new jobs created in Indiana in recent years require some sort of post-high school training, so we compiled even more credentials. 

Today, Indiana’s Credential Registry includes all of the degree and certificate programs offered by Indiana’s public institutions and 141 high schools offering the Indiana College Core, which is a block of 30 credit hours of general education college-level coursework that transfers to and among Indiana’s public colleges and universities and some private institutions. 

Indiana’s registry also highlights all tuition-free training programs that lead to what we call the Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant in high-demand fields such as advanced manufacturing, health and life science, information technology and logistics. All told, Indiana’s credential registry allows learners, job-seekers, companies and policymakers to find, compare and act on more than 3,000 unique credentials.

This crucial work continues. Indiana is now listing credentials from additional independent colleges and universities as well as information about licenses and professional certifications. Soon, a new searchable tool will be available to Hoosiers to help them find and compare programs and institutions in a user-friendly, interactive format. 

Today, 28 states and regions are engaged in credential transparency efforts, and many of the nation’s major postsecondary organizations have signed on to this effort. A partnership announced in 2020 brought together six leading state policy organizations to focus on legislative and policy models aimed at state leaders in the workforce, higher education and K-12 schools. 

States that can provide accurate, complete and equitable information about their learn-and-earn ecosystems can help all residents find the right jobs, all companies hire the right people, and all schools provide the right programs. For states to meet their equity and economic development goals in the years ahead, they must commit to making sure everyone has access to information that will help them prosper and grow. 

Teresa Lubbers is former Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education and Chris Lowery is the current Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education.