Connections: The Newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network

Volume 31, No. 3
Credentials of Value

A Quality Framework for Non-degree Credentials

Michelle Van Noy, Associate Director and Assistant Research Professor, and Heather McKay, Director, Education and Employment Research Center (EERC), Rutgers University

Michelle Van NoyHeather McKay Non-degree credentials are increasingly of interest as workers look for short-term options to gain employment related-skills and enter a career pathway. Particularly in the post-pandemic environment, finding ways to get to work quickly is an appealing feature of non-degree credentials. Non-degree credentials include certificates, industry certifications, occupational licensure, and apprenticeships, as well as badges and other newly emerging microcredentials. There are over 300,000 non-degree credentials in the marketplace, offered by a wide range of organizations including educational institutions, private training providers, industry associations, unions, and others [1].

Despite the interest and growth in non-degree credentials, systems and approaches to assess their quality are still under development. Some efforts to develop quality standards for non-degree credentials exist at the state level, and through some national organizations [2] [3] [4]. Yet, much work has to be done to ensure quality as these credentials increasingly are part of the credential landscape. To support efforts to promote quality, we at Rutgers University’s Education and Employment Research Center offer a conceptual framework that can help guide efforts to define and measure quality for non-degree credentials. It includes four elements.

First, credential design includes basic features that define the credential including its content, how it is attained, and how it can be used. These include the relevance of its competencies for career and educational goals; appropriateness of its instructional processes and/or assessment processes; the degree to which it is stackable and portable; the degree of transparency of the credential; and its accessibility and affordability.

Second, beyond the design of a credential are the competencies or the skills and knowledge that credential holders possess after attaining the credential. This refers to the measurement of the actual competencies an individual possesses, as opposed to the competencies the credential intends to convey.

Third, recognition in the market includes how a credential comes to be recognized and have value. It can include transparency initiatives that convey information on the credential; general awareness of the credential and its grantor; endorsements and validations; state regulations requiring its use; employer hiring policies and practices; and educational institutions’ recognition of learning that can translate it into academic credit.

Fourth, outcomes of value are the tangible benefits to having the credential. For individuals, this can include whether they continue with their education, become employed, have increased earnings, and accrue better health and well-being. For society, these include both outcomes for employers such as more efficient hiring, better worker retention, and more diversity, and outcomes for society at large such as, improved public safety and reduced inequality.

Together, these four elements form a comprehensive approach to quality among non-degree credentials that can guide current efforts by states, systems, and institutions to ensure quality in non-degree credential offerings. While more data are needed, these elements can guide efforts to collect better data and assess where improvements in quality can be made. In the post-COVID pandemic world, this information is increasingly an imperative.

For more details on the non-degree credential quality framework, visit our website at:


[1] Credential Engine (2019). Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials, Washington DC: author. [back]

[2] Duke-Benfield, A., Wilson, B., Kaleba, K., & Levantoff, J. (2019). Expanding opportunities: Defining quality non-degree credentials for states. Washington, DC: National Skills Coalition. [back]

[3] Education Strategy Group (2019). Building credential currency: Resources to drive attainment across K-12, higher education and workforce development. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from [back]

[4] ANSI National Credentialing Board (2020), ANAB Credentialing Accreditation Programs,; Institute for Credentialing Excellence (2020), NCCA Accreditation, [back]