Report finds nearly 1M unique credentials on offer in US

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • There are nearly 1 million unique credentials available in the U.S., including degrees, certificates, and badges, according to the latest count from Credential Engine, a nonprofit seeking to add transparency to the postsecondary marketplace.
  • Nonacademic providers offer nearly 550,000 badges, certificates, certifications, and apprenticeships, making them the largest credentials purveyor of those tracked. Colleges came next, with more than 350,000 credentials.
  • The report says more information is needed to understand the credentials, such as the competencies they convey and their value in the marketplace.

Dive Insight:


Credential Engine counted nearly 230,000 more credentials in this report than in the prior year’s analysis. That’s partly because nonacademic providers reported more credentials to the nonprofit than last year. However, it’s unclear how much the increase was due to new offerings versus better tracking of existing programs.

Researchers have also gathered new information about nontraditional credentials and improved their methods for counting traditional types. Still, the report calls for more to be done.

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for more information about which credentials help workers quickly learn new skills. Representatives of a handful of state policy agencies wrote in a foreword to the report. They’re calling on states to catalog all the credentials offered within their borders and create tools to help workers understand their value.

Washington state, for instance, runs a website called Career Bridge that helps workers find jobs that fit their interests and links them to educational opportunities that will allow them to acquire the skills they need. According to a report last year from Credential Engine, New Jersey is developing a similar tool to help unemployed workers find training and land jobs.

Short-term credentials also appear to be gaining momentum amid the pandemic. The health crisis will likely spur colleges to expand their non-degree and certificate programs, Moody’s Investors Service predicted last summer.

Indeed, more colleges are reshaping the degree pathway to include more short-term training opportunities. And dozens of universities have recently partnered with coding schools to provide boot camps to students.

However, not much is known about the value students gain from short-term credentials.  The U.S. Department of Education tested offering students Pell Grants for short-term programs over the past decade. The agency found late last year that students who received the experimental Pell Grants were more likely to complete their programs than those who didn’t, though it did not probe whether they had better labor market outcomes.

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