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A Nonprofit Spent 5 Years Counting a Million Credentials. What Does It All Add Up To?

A Nonprofit Spent 5 Years Counting a Million Credentials. What Does It All Add Up To?


Rebecca Koenig
December 8, 2022
For the past five years, researchers have been carefully counting all the degrees, certificates and badges available for people to earn in the U.S., a figure they say now totals 1,076,358.
And for the past five years, some observers have scratched their heads about this enumeration endeavor and asked … why?
The effort, run by the nonprofit Credential Engine, marked its half-decade this week with a virtual convening to describe its latest research report and a reception in Washington, D.C., to celebrate its anniversary. As an afternoon of Zoom presentations gave way to an evening of conversations over cocktails, the purpose and potential of all that tallying came into focus.
More than two dozen states now partner with Credential Engine, using the Credential Transparency Description Language it developed to assemble, sort through and better understand their education and workforce data. And some state governments are applying this system to help their residents directly. For example, a leader from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development explained during the webinar how her state is creating a digital search tool that lets people select among all the credential options available to them, sorting by occupation, program location and graduate outcomes.
The growing uptake is a sign that more policymakers and officials appreciate the importance of creating more transparency in the education “marketplace,” leaders at Credential Engine told EdSurge during interviews at the nonprofit’s reception on Dec. 7.
“This is the right thing to do for your students,” said Scott Cheney, the CEO of Credential Engine. “It’s crazy that it’s easier to search for, compare and select a hotel room or a used car online than it is to make an informed decision” about which postsecondary credentials to pursue.
Still, advocates leading different but related efforts to make higher education and workforce training programs better for participants and employers have different ideas about what transparency really looks like when it comes to credentials. A few told EdSurge that they would like to see the credential-counting effort address deeper questions.
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