Credentials & Providers


Credentials and providers comprise a main building block in the learn-and-work ecosystem. The process and design used to develop and award credentials  is credentialing

A credential is a documented award by a responsible and authorized body that attests that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes or attained a defined level of knowledge or skill relative to a given standard. The credential is an enabling mechanism for promoting educational, social, and/or economic mobility. 

There are many types of credentials. Credential is an umbrella term that includes different kinds of degrees and non-degrees (also known as alternative credentials). Non-degree credentials include diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications. The term microcredential is often used to describe a credential that is less than a degree, though the term is also used to define an online credential. These different types of credentials serve different purposes (e.g., to validate  completion of a program of study, verify an individual’s qualifications, or document achievement of specific competencies). 

Credentials are awarded by different types of entities, including educational institutions, professional and industry certifying bodies, and state licensure boards. They are awarded based on different frameworks (e.g., higher education program requirements, industry-validated competencies and mastery levels, certification and licensure board definitions). They are subject to different quality assurance processes (e.g., higher education accreditation, third-party validation, state reviews). They may be assessment or participation-based, and they may be delivered using digital technology, which allows them to be easily shared or embedded in learner profiles. 

Credential providers are the entities authorized to determine and distribute credentials to learners. There are many types of providers, including secondary schools; community colleges; technical schools; four-year colleges and universities; military; business and professional associations; professional certification bodies; boot camps and governments for licenses, certificates, and industry-awarded certifications; and companies. 

The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act defines credentialing in a workforce context. The  main purpose of credentialing is to provide high-quality education, training, and other services that:

  • Align with the skill needs of employers.
  • Prepare an individual to succeed in secondary and postsecondary education.
  • Includes support services such as counseling to help individuals achieve their education and career goals.
  • Include, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster.
  • Organize education, training, and other services to accelerate the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable.
  • Enable individuals to attain a secondary school diploma (or recognized equivalent) and at least one recognized postsecondary credential.
  • Help an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

The U.S. credentialing ecosystem developed over time to meet the needs of society and economic structures in which a single credential often served an individual well for a stable career over a lifetime. But today’s economy and society depend on ever-higher levels of knowledge and the ability to rapidly evolve and adapt to changing circumstances. Credentials have proliferated to meet the needs of the diverse, 21st century knowledge economy. In the rapidly changing credentialing arena, there is a lack of understanding about what credentials are, what makes them valuable, how that value varies across different types of credentials for different stakeholders, what constitutes quality, and how credentials are connected to each other and to opportunities for the people who have earned them.

A newer development in credentialing is the trend among companies to move beyond training their own employees or provide tuition assistance programs to help them pursue higher education. A number of employers are also developing their own curricula and expanding their publicly facing credential offerings. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that a wider array of high-value, non-degree credentials is here to stay. Strada Education Network’s national consumer surveys have found that more and more American adults are considering pursuing a certificate, industry certification, or license. The digital credentialing platform Credly reports that the number of organizations issuing industry and workforce credentials is up 83 percent since the pandemic. In publicly traded online education company 2U’s last fiscal year, “alternative credential” revenue surged 83 percent to $288 million. And Coursera’s IPO filing in March 2021 showed booming business in professional certificate offerings from both universities and companies.

Relationship to the Ecosystem

Credentials are a major component of the learn-and-work ecosystem, particularly the learning (education) system which focuses on preparing learners to transition into and progress through the workforce. Credential providers determine the recruitment of individuals to their courses and programs, and the design, content, and distribution of credentials in academia and the workforce.  


The stacking of employer-issued credentials to create new pathways into college degree and certificate programs is an increasing trend. Partnerships with community colleges are central to Google’s approach. Northeastern University articulated IBM’s digital badges and Google’s IT certificate for degree program credit.

Alternative Terminology

  • Qualification is the formal outcome of an assessment and validation process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to given standards. Connecting Credentials – Glossary of Credentialing Terminology (June 2016). The term especially is used outside the United States, in the context of qualifications frameworks. Such frameworks are formalized structures in which learning-level descriptors and qualifications are used to understand learning outcomes and develop, assess, and improve quality education in a number of contexts.
  • Credentialing pathway is used synonymously with career pathway 
  • Degree-granting institutions
  • Credentialing institutions
  • Accredited organizations
  • Approved institutions


Cheney, S., Mann, S., Beyer, R., Gaston, P., Elliot, J., Johnson, J. L., Koch, P., Sigelman, M., & Viar, R. L. (2022). Unprecedented Opportunity, Extraordinary Risk: HLC in the Changing Credentials Landscape. Higher Learning Commission .

Retrieved from

Certifications as Tools for Promoting Economic Mobility. Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

Credential Engine. Counting U.S. Postsecondary and Secondary Credentials 

Definitions and Use of Key Terms and Concepts in Incremental Credentialing. Credential As You Go. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2022, from

Gallagher, S. and Zanville, H. (March 25, 2021). More Employers Are Awarding Credentials. Is A Parallel Higher Education System Emerging? EdSurge

Glossary of Credentialing Terminology – June 2016 – DRAFT. (n.d.). Connecting Credentials. Retrieved August 10, 2022, from

Stewart, T. (2021, November 17). Improving higher education by serving new audiences. The EvoLLLution. Retrieved September 11, 2022, from


1EdTech Open Badges Standard Academic Advising Accreditation Adult Learners: Second-chance Options, Accelerated Options Alternative Credentials Apprenticeship Articulation / Transfer Auto-award (Automatic) Badge Backpack Badge, Skills Badge, Open Badge, Competency Badge Blockchain Career Pathways Certificate Certification Community College Baccalaureate Degrees & Community College Baccalaureate Association Competency / Skills Models & Learning Frameworks Competency-based Education/Learning Concurrent / Dual Enrollment Credential Engine Credential Registry Credential Transparency Description Language Credentials Credentials For Young Adults Credit Interoperability Credit Pathways, Noncredit to Credit Articulation Degree Digital Credential Ecosystem / Marketplace Digital Credentials Digital Platforms Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL) Employer Credentialing & Training Employer Partnerships With Education Providers Equity, Equality, Fair/Just Outcomes, Equity-mindedness, Inclusion, Racial Justice Frontloaded Embedded Non-degree Pathways Goodwill Career Centers Guided Pathways Incremental Credential / Incremental Credentialing System / Incremental Credentialing Framework Innovation Networks / Alliances Institute for Credentialing Excellence (I.C.E.) Institutional Accrediting Agencies in Higher Education Licensing & Licensing Boards Microcredential Military Crosswalks & Credentialing Modular Learning National Accrediting Organizations (Programs) & Specialized Accreditors In Higher Education Non-degree Credentials Non-degree Credentials Research Network (NCRN) Pell, Short Term Pell Policy and Practice Prior Learning Assessment, Credit for Prior Learning, Recognition of Prior Learning Prisons As A Credential Provider Quality Non-degree Credential Quality Non-degree Credential Remedial Education Reverse Transfer Short-term Credentials, Short-term Training Skills Vs. Competencies Vs. Work Skills Skills-based Hiring Stackable Credentials T3 Innovation Network/T3 Network Resource Hub Talent Hubs Unions Work Colleges Workforce Certificate, Workforce Certifications
Key Initiatives
1EdTech Digital Credentials Roundtable: Learn & Lead 2U / edX Bootcamp Partnership AAC&U’s Revision of Essential Learning Outcomes Framework AACRAO Alternative Credentials Initiative AACRAO Credit Mobility Initiative Accelerating Opportunity: Kansas Adult Learning & Literacy Network (ALL IN) Advancing Equity and Upward Mobility through Community College-Employer Partnerships (ACE-UP) Alabama Partnership with Credential Engine Alabama Talent Triad Alternative Credentials: Considerations, Guidance, and Best Practices Apprenticeship Accelerator Initiative Apprenticeships for America Initiative ASU Pocket Bendable (Library Lifelong Learning Platform) BRIDGES (Building Rural Innovation, Designing Educational Strategies) Rural Business Higher Education Forum’s Workforce Partnership Initiative C-BEN’s Employer Engagement Best Practices Guide C-BEN’s Interoperability Principles Project C-BEN’s Quality Framework Catalyze Registry Catalyzing Transfer Initiative (CTI) Cedefop’s Microcredentials & Labor Market Research Centralized DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) Education Research Platform Certification-degree Pathways Project Certification+Degree Pathways in Support of First-generation, Low-income and Adult Learners College Unbound’s Learning in Public Project College-in-Prison Programs Colorado’s Advancing Individual Ownership of Assets and Career Determination Initiative Competency Model Clearinghouse, US Department of Labor Course+Badge Initiative Credential As You Go Credentials Matter CTE Leadership Collaborative Demonstrate Value through Linking Data Dictionary: Definitions, Use of Key Terms & Concepts in Incremental Credentialing Digital Learner Records Digital Skills & Knowledge Concepts Labelling Initiative – European Classification of Occupations, Skills & Competences (ESCO)  Education Quality Outcomes Standards EDUCAUSE Microcredentialing Employability Skills Bundle Project Every Learner Everywhere Expand Acceptance of Digital Records and Credentials with Community College Systems Expanding the Learner Record: XLR Project Experience You: Bring Your Past Forward Graduate-Level Microcredentials and Workforce Needs HBCUv Industry Certification Education & Performance Data System Initiative Industry Credentials & Education Performance Data System Industry Credentials Initiative Interstate Passport® Job Quality Initiative Job Skills for In-Demand Employment (JobSIDE) Just Equations Knowledge Center, National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) Kresge Foundation Last Mile Report Launch: Equitable & Accelerated Pathways for All – Education Strategy Group Learning and Employment Record / Achievement Wallet Lessons Learned from Launching a Micro-Credential Program, Kennesaw State University LifeJourney – AI-Powered Skills & Competency Toolkit Linked, Open Languages/schemas (CTDL & CTDL-ASN) Mapping Learning & Employment Records (LERs) MERLOT – Multimedia Education Resource for Learning & Online Teaching Micro-Pathway Design Initiative Micro-pathways – Community College Growth Engine Fund (Education Design Lab) MicroCreds National Project (Ireland) Midwest Credential Transparency Alliance (MCTA) National Pathways Initiative Navigating Public Job Training (Research Report from Harvard Project on Workforce) Noncredit and Credit Alignment Lab (NCAL) North Dakota Digital Credential Publishing Application North Dakota Partnership with Credential Engine OneTen Open Skills Network (OSN) Open Syllabus Pathways to Credentials – CTE Technical Assistance (US Department of Education) Propel Polk! Quality Assurance Standards for Micro-Credentials — from Micro-Credentials Partnership Of States (MPOS) Racial Equity for Adult Credentials In Higher Education (REACH) Collaborative Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success, USDOE Rasmussen University Phase 1 Comprehensive Learning Record Project Research on Work-Based Learning – Studying Coursetaking & Post-Degree Earnings Among Completers Rising Up through Stronger & More Equitable Transfer: Tracking Transfer & Transfer Playbook 2.0 (Aspen Institute, CCRC) Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS) SHEEO RESEARCH SURVEY: State Priorities for Higher Education in 2023 SkillsEngine SkyHive® Platform SNHU 2025 Solutions for Information Design, LLC (SOLID) Some College, No Credential Student (SCNC) Outcomes: Annual Progress Report Stackability Guide State Authorization Network (SAN) State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) State of Washington’s Career Bridge Stronger Nation Report – Lumina Foundation T-Profile Builder (Education Design Lab) Tennessee Board of Regents’ Comprehensive Learner Record Initiative Texas Credentials for the Future Initiative The Big 10 Leadership & Change Competencies The Brookings Institution’s Earn-and-Learn Project The Good Jobs Project The HR Open Standards Resume/CV Project The Learner Credential Wallet The State of Digital Credentials 2022 Guide (Accredible) The Workforce Almanac Understanding the Landscape of Industry Certifications Unmudl Skills-to-Jobs Marketplace Wellspring Initiative, Phase 1 & 2 Workforce Compass XCredit Skills Validation(Education Design Lab) Year to Career Through Micro-Pathways (Year to Career)
Alliances & Intermediaries
1EdTech Consortium AARP Foundation Accredible (digital badge & certificate platform) Achieving the Dream (ATD) Advance CTE AFL-CIO Working for America Institute (WAI) Albert Shanker Institute American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officess American Association of State Colleges & Universities (AASCU) American Council on Education American Dental Education Association American Health Information Management Association(AHIMA) American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEP) American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Annie E. Casey Foundation Apprenticeships for America (AFA) Ascendium Education Philanthropy Aspen Forum for Community Solutions Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Association of American Medical Colleges Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) Baptist Health Kentucky Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bitwise Industries Boeing Burning Glass Institute Business Roundtable (BRT) Business-Higher Education Forum CanCred by Learning Agents CareerEdge Funders Collaborative Center for Employment Opportunities Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA), San Diego State University Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS) Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy, Northeastern University Center on Education & Labor at New America Charles Koch Foundation Chicanos Por La Causa Cognizant US Foundation College in High School Alliance (CHSA) Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) Community College Research Center (CCRC) Competency-based Education Network (C-BEN) Complete College America Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) Credential Engine Credly CVS Health Data for the American Dream Desire 2 Learn Digital Credentials Consortium (DCC) Digital Learning Collaborative Digital Promise EAB ECMC Foundation Ed2Work Education & Employment Research Center, School of Management & Labor Relations, Rutgers Education Commission of the States (ECS) Education Design Lab (the Lab) Education Exchange Education Finance Council Education Policy Program at New America Education Strategy Group (ESG) Educational Testing Service (ETS) Employment & Training Administration, USDOL Esperanza Education Fund Excelencia in Education FourPoint Education Partners Frontier Set Futuro Health Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) Goodwill Goodwill-Easter Seals Google Great Lakes Community Action Partnership Greater Houston Partnership Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) Guild Harvard Project on Workforce Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) Hope Center for College, Communications & Justice Hunt Institute IBM idatafy IDRAmp Inc. Indiana Governor’s Workforce Cabinet Indigo Education Company Inside Track International Council on Badges and Credentials (ICoBC) International Society for Technology in Education IQ4 Corporation Irvine Foundation Jobs for the Future JPMorgan Chase Foundation Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center League for the Innovation of Community Colleges Learning Economy Foundation (LEF) Lumina Foundation Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) McKinsey & Company Microsoft Education Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association of State Workforce Agencies National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) National Association of Workforce Boards National Center for Higher Educational Management Services (NCHEMS) National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) National Early Care & Education Workforce Center (ECE Workforce Center) National Governors Association (NGA) National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) National Partnership for Women & Families National Skills Coalition National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) New Profit NOVA Workforce NOVA Workforce Institute of Northeast Louisiana Office of Career, Technical & Adult Education, USDOE Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) Open Skills Network Opportunity Nation Opportunity@Work Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Pairin Parchment & Digitary Pathstone Inc. (Puerto Rico) Patrick McGovern Foundation People Inc. Philadelphia Youth Network Postsecondary State Network Public Consulting Group Rework America Alliance Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation SAP Training & Adoption Schmidt Futures Skills Enhancement Program – CAP Services SkillsCommons Repository SkillUp Coalition Social Finance SOLID (Solutions for Information Design), LLC Source for Human Resource Manager Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Stand Together State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Strada Education Network Student Success Center Network Territorium The National College Transition Network (NCTN ) – World Education The T3 Innovation Network Third Way Trusted Learner Network (TLN) UnidosUS United Negro College Fund (UNCF) University Innovation Alliance University Instructors University Professional and Continuing Education Association- UPCEA US Chamber of Commerce Foundation W.K. Kellogg Foundation WestEd Western Governors University Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Workcred Workday WorkRise Yellowdig Young Adult Talent Development Network

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