Indiana Gives Credential Engine a Boost

Credential Engine stands to transform how learners choose their educational pathway, and how employers choose the right hire. State agencies have a big part to play in making it happen.

Last week, leaders from business, labor, and higher education celebrated the public launch of Credential Engine’s Credential Registry. A web-based system for finding and comparing education and training credentials, the Credential Registry stands to transform the way employers, institutions, and learners at all levels evaluate and compare different credentials when making education, career, and hiring decisions. Yet many education and workforce development professionals remain uncertain about how the system works and might help them. Seen in action at the state level, the value of Credential Engine’s tools is much clearer.

The Credential Registry is a database that captures, connects, and makes searchable critical information about all kinds of credentials: from degrees to certificates, badges to micromasters, apprenticeships to employer training programs, and certifications to licenses. It obtains this information under agreements with colleges, certification bodies, industry associations, and other credentialing and quality assurance organizations. Credential Finder is a search app that accompanies the Registry. It enables employers, students, career counselors and others to find credentials of interest and compare them along many dimensions. Credential Engine is the nonprofit organization that operates both the Registry and Credential Finder.

The potential value of this system becomes clear when one considers all the credentialing options facing a learner looking for new skills, or an employer looking for the right new hire. There are hundreds of thousands of credentials out there, and knowing what they signify is desperately difficult. At best, you can look at a syllabus, certification requirements, or an apprenticeship’s work-process schedule, but even those may not tell you how a learner was trained or assessed. By contrast, the Credential Registry makes a wealth of information transparent, comparable, and easy to find. And by including information about criteria and methods used by the country’s hundreds of quality-assurance bodies, it allows learners and employers to evaluate a credential’s claims to third-party approval.

Want to find the best-respected industry certification in health information management? Or find out what competencies an (ISC)2 CISSP certification requires cybersecurity pros to have that a CompTIA CSA+ doesn’t – and vice versa? Credential Engine aims to be the go-to source for answers to questions like these. But because both of Credential Engine’s tools are open-source, other organizations – from commercial vendors to national associations – can also develop their own more specialized apps, and several are already doing so.  

Realizing these diverse benefits, however, depends on the Registry reaching a critical mass of documented credentials, and not all credentialing organizations are clamoring to provide them. Some imagine that posting the required information takes more time than it does. Less reputable organizations worry about how they will look when compared with others. The Registry already has over 1,500 credentials submitted from over 170 organizations, but with hundreds of thousands of credentials still out there in the U.S. alone, there is still a way to go. Fortunately, state governments and higher education commissions are providing the leadership needed to dramatically increase Registry participation. We’re proud that Indiana is one such example.

In March of this year, the Indiana Commission for HigherEducation (ICHE) began a state scale-up of the Credential Registry. Initially, we focused on how health care and military training could be represented in the Credential Registry. We chose healthcare because of the industry’s size and importance, its direct impact on the well-being of Hoosiers, and the complexity of its workforce and credentials. In addition, important resources had already been mobilized, notably the Governor’s Health Workforce Council, which brought together a core of motivated policymakers supported by superb staff. Similarly, the emphasis on veterans allowed Indiana policymakers to leverage ongoing work on credit for prior learning through the Multi-State Collaborative on MilitaryCredit (MCMC). ICHE enlisted an important MCMC partner, the Arlington-based Solutions for Information Design (SOLiD), to take the lead on entering all military allied health training courses into the Registry.

To jumpstart discussions about the value of Credential Engine, ICHE staff uploaded several hundred health certificate and degree programs offered by public institutions into the Registry. We also worked with the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency so that the 13 boards that license health professionals could be represented online. The collaborative efforts of organizations such as the Indiana Center of Nursing and the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers contributed invaluable professional and industry perspectives to our work.

We also uploaded all 125 short- and long-term certificate programs offered by our two-year institutions participating in the Governor’s new NextLevel Jobs initiative. In fact, all academic certificates and associate’s degrees offered by Indiana’s public two-year institutions are now entered into the Registry. To demonstrate the spectrum of credentials and credential providers, the instructional offerings available at one of Indiana’s secondary career centers are on the Registry, too, and we’ve also included selected apprenticeship programs. 

Taking advantage of the Registry’s open-source platform, we are also working with our Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to link the Department’s career exploration toolset to the core information in the Registry. This lets anybody in Indiana – from middle-schoolers to returning adults – see what’s out there in the job market, and what credentials they can use to get there. Similarly, we’re thinking through ways to link DWD and ICHE employment and earnings information with the Registry, letting learners see their projected return-on-investment for their education choices. Finally, Parchment (the vendor powering the Indiana e-Transcript Program) is helping us explore how competencies outlined in the Registry could be attached to digital transcripts or credentials.

We’re still learning as we go, but the Indiana experience provides some key milestones that show the way for other states to scale up Credential Registry and use it for their own goals:

1.    Finding a champion (or two) who understands the value and potential of Credential Engine in meeting state needs, and who can provide initial momentum;

2.    Reaching consensus on a strategic starting point that will allow the state to engage key stakeholders;

3.    Pre-populating the Registry with several relevant credentials, so that a new stakeholder’s first encounter with the Registry is with a tangible product, not an abstract process; and

4.    Allocating modest agency resources, chiefly in the form of staff time, to help drive awareness and adoption of the Registry.

Credential Engine’s tools are good news for students, businesses, and educational institutions currently struggling to navigate an increasingly complex and opaque credential system. Students can find out which credentials would serve them best, and employers can better determine what a credential holder actually knows and can do. Education and training providers can improve current systems to tackle challenging issues like transfer value as well as refine their existing programs in ways that strengthen their competitive position – or start new ones that take into account the competition. When employers start hiring more of an institution’s graduates, there’s good reason to expect more and more students will apply.

Achieving scale is a challenge for any new system of this kind, but states like Indiana are showing how it can be done. The trick is to focus on attaining critical mass in selected industries, occupations, and regions, and to build from there.  State agencies and education commissions can provide crucial leadership with funding, advocacy, and technical assistance. If they do, we believe that their states will see skill gaps decline, workforce quality improve, and economic growth accelerate. And learners will soon find it easier to make sense of the thousands of credentials that mark the path to their goals, whatever they are.

The authors welcome any opportunity to collaborate with practitioners in other states in building the Credential Registry. They can be reached at KSauer@che.in.gov and crawford@gwu.edu.

Authors:

Ken Sauer is senior associate commissioner and chief academic officer for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, executive director of the Indiana Commission for Proprietary Education, and vice chair of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. 

Stephen Crawford is a research professor at George Washington University's Institute of Public Policy. His work focuses on postsecondary education and workforce development. He co-directed the Credential Transparency Initiative that led to the creation of Credential Engine.