The policy landscape is a crowded, layered, and significant component of the learn-and-work ecosystem. Policy encompasses laws, regulations, procedures, administrative rules and actions, incentives, and voluntary practices of governments and other institutions. Policy decisions are frequently reflected in resource allocations and in accountability processes.

Many entities issue policies germane to the learn-and-work ecosystem in the United States: 

  • Governments—federal, state, regional/local
  • State systems of higher education, state coordinating boards 
  • Accrediting organizations 
  • Higher education boards of regents  
  • Employer program policies affecting tuition assistance programs; apprenticeships, internships, and work-and-learn programs; requirements related to upskilling and reskilling
  • Union program policies, particularly those governing company-led and union-guided apprenticeship programs
  • Community-based program policies such as libraries and local initiatives that support immigrant centers, Goodwill centers, and others 

Alternative Terms



Administrative rules



Relationship to Ecosystem

Policy sets the foundation for the learn-and-work ecosystem. These include the laws, incentive structures, requirements, and often budgetary parameters for credential providers (especially public institutions and nonprofit organizations) and other  entities working within the ecosystem. 


Examples of key federal policy areas include a variety of tools the federal government has to influence the ecosystem,  federal financial aid to learners, tax policies for higher education, data collection, workforce development, and career navigation services.  

  • Tools:  The federal government—Congress and the administrative agencies—have many tools to influence the field: They can use the bully pulpit, work across the agencies that have strong employer connections, and create funding incentives (e.g., new grant programs) to affect secondary and postsecondary programs.
  • Financial aid: Pell grants are a federal subsidy to assist lower-income students. Pell is limited to students with need who have not earned a bachelor’s degree or who enroll in certain post-baccalaureate programs through participating institutions. More than 5,000 institutions participate. For years, there has been debate over expanding federal financial aid to cover short-term credential programs. Advocates argue that we need more rapid, flexible options to prepare people for in-demand jobs. Critics contend that many short-term, non-degree programs don’t help workers advance beyond static, low-wage—which especially harms people of color and those from low-income backgrounds.
  • Tax policies: Tax creditsdeductions, and savings plans can help taxpayers with their expenses for higher education. A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax an individual may have to pay. A deduction reduces the amount of income that is subject to tax, thus generally reducing the amount of tax to be paid. Certain savings plans allow the accumulated earnings to grow tax-free until money is taken out (known as a distribution), or allow the distribution to be tax-free, or both.
  • Data Collection: IPEDS in the U.S. Department of Education (this data collection system began in 1992) annually conducts 12 surveys, in fall, winter, and spring. All institutions authorized by Title IV for any federal financial assistance program are required to complete these surveys. Data collected include institutional characteristics and prices, enrollment, financial aid, degrees and certificates conferred, and student persistence and success. IPEDS is considering now whether and when to collect non-degree data; this will be very important policy for incremental credentialing.
  • Workforce-Target Incentives: Through Career and Technical Education (CTE) and related WIOA and Perkins programs, the federal government provides funding and guidance that is particularly important for community and technical colleges. High-quality CTE programs represent an effective way to provide young adults with an educational experience that prepares them for both college and career success. However, not all CTE programs offer accessible pathways to a bounty of educational options, and some lead to dead ends. Apprenticeships, important to incremental credentialing, are guided by law (29 U.S.C. §50) on promotion of labor standards of apprenticeship plus regulations (29 CFR 29) on labor standards for registering apprenticeship programs.
  • Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) are part of the Public Workforce System, a network of federal, state, and local offices that support economic expansion and aid in developing the nation’s workforce. WDBs direct federal, state, and local funding to workforce development programs. They also oversee the American Job Centers, where job seekers can get employment information, find out about career development training opportunities, and connect to various programs in their area. Services are available at sites throughout the nation, and serving a number of programs:
  • Career Navigation Services: In re-employment assistance programs and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), federal policy can expand access to effective coaching to help workers navigate a new economic landscape. Federal policymakers could increase investments in Wagner-Peyser re-employment assistance programs and WIOA programs to enable states and local workforce boards to hire and train more job coaches at American Job Centers. They could also provide additional funding to states to create a high-quality coaching support system across all organizations that serve affected workers. Many groups are calling for specific actions: (1) hire more coaches, (2) give coaches training and tools, (3) align performance incentives to encourage coaching providers to focus on clients’ long-term career success, and (4) ensure that all populations are served.

States set policy for their educational systems, and provide policies which affect workers and employers. Examples of state policy include governor-led statewide financial assistance programs for short-term postsecondary courses and programs; legislation to support credentialing and workforce development strategies; higher education system approaches to adopt microcredential policies; and remedial education policies.

  • Louisiana: The governor used federal stimulus dollars to start Reboot Your Careers to provide financial assistance for students in short-term postsecondary courses.
  • Virginia: Since 2016, FastForward has operated a statewide short-term credential program to help meet the demand for such programs among both students and employers.
  • Florida’s In 2021, the legislature passed HB 1505 to require public postsecondary institutions to award students a nationally recognized digital badge upon completion of core general education courses that demonstrate career readiness. Some features of that program: 
    • It applies to students entering a postsecondary institution in fall 2022 or later. 
    • The State Board of Education and the Board of Governors for the State University System jointly appoint faculty committees to identify the competencies in general education core that demonstrate career readiness. Demonstration of these competencies will qualify the student for a verifiable, interoperable, nationally recognized digital credential. 
    • Badges must be awarded/recognized by every public postsecondary institution in Florida. 
  • Colorado passed multiple bills in 2022 to support credentialing strategies and disadvantaged students. They include:
    • Improving Students’ Postsecondary Options (HB22-1366) provide increased funding to make postsecondary options more accessible and affordable.
    • Regional Collaborative Grants (HB22-1350) provide incentive grants to fund talent development for workforce development.
    • Opportunities for Credential Attainment (SB22-192) tasks the Colorado Department of Higher Education to work with state institutions of higher education to develop and implement a process to support institutions to create stackable credential pathways. Legislation includes provisions for public universities to award associate degrees to students who stop out short of a bachelor’s. It also funds a task force and study of the state’s public higher education system.
  • Remedial Education:  Research shows that a small number of students who took remedial courses earned a certificate or associate degree within six years, and a small number transferred to a four-year university. Research has also shown that Black and Latino students enroll in remedial classes at disproportionately high rates. Some states have passed laws guiding remedial education.

In California, a bill awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature that would mostly ban remedial math and English classes which cannot transfer with credit to four-year universities. If the governor signs the bill, it will affect more than 40 colleges that continue to offer those classes five years after a state law approved in 2017 allows students to bypass the courses. Assembly Bill 1705 addresses concerns that some students are still being funneled into remedial classes. Lawmakers contend that many of the colleges offering remedial courses are violating the spirit of a 2017 law, Assembly Bill 705, which said colleges cannot place students in remedial classes unless they are highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework. The new law builds off the initial one by creating stricter rules detailing the limited scenarios when colleges are allowed to enroll students in remedial classes. 

State systems of higher education and coordinating boards play a major role in policy. 

  • They typically develop and implement postsecondary policy that aligns with federal and state statute. They administer academic, financial aid and workforce programs to include the review and approval of academic programs and research centers. They also commission and conduct research and analysis and complete data reports, set tuition rates, and administer funding formulas and allocate funds. Some details about these entities: 
  • Organizational structures: In 28 states, there is a single statewide coordinating board, agency or governing board. The other 22 have one or more major systemwide coordinating or governing board(s) and/or a statewide administrative/service agency.
  • Leadership: Coordinating/governing boards appoint most postsecondary CEOs.
  • Governor’s role: Majority of board members for state system and coordinating/governing boards are appointed; governors hold this authority for most boards.
  • Ex-officio:  Boards often include higher education leaders, and state K-12 superintendents.
  • Students: Students serve on numerous boards, typically appointed by governor or selected by student government organizations.
  • Faculty: Faculty members serve on some boards, usually selected by professional associations.
  • New York: The State University of New York (SUNY) adopted a broad micro-credential policy in 2018, following recommendations of Micro-Credentialing Task Force created in 2015. Via collaborative process and endorsed by SUNY Trustees, SUNY has a definition of micro-credentials designed to ensure that the rigor and quality of micro-credentials match that of SUNY’s other credentials. SUNY Micro-Credentials (1) verify, validate, and attest that specific skills and/or competencies have been achieved; (2) are endorsed by issuing institution; (3) are developed via established faculty governance processes; (4) are designed to be meaningful and high quality. SUNY has established a taxonomy of terms around microcredentials. It offers more than  400 microcredentials across 30-plus campuses.  
  • Indiana: Initiated by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, multiple state agencies and all public colleges and universities are working in partnership to increase credential transparency. They are working with Credential Engine and its Credential Transparency Descriptor Language (CTDL) as the means and common language to achieve this goal. Efforts focus on publishing information to the IN Credential Registry, a state-specific subset of national Credential Engine Registry. While much data has already been published (more than 3,000 programs), and more is continuously added, increasing attention is now directed to integrating the data in the Registry with tools that help learners think through their career goals and find education/training programs to achieve those goals. The state’s newly licensed statewide Career Explorer software will point to the Registry for information about education and training. Through a partnership with Parchment, the state has a mature Indiana e-Transcript Program. It is universally used at the high school-to-college level (200,000 transcripts sent annually) and is being implemented at the college-to-college level. Ivy Tech Community College has licensed Parchment’s Award Diploma Services product that allows all graduates to be issued a digital credential. This credential links to the Registry, allowing employers to obtain all information about the credential and the college that has been published to the Registry, including the competencies associated with the credential.

Accreditation also plays an important role in the policy world. Higher education in the U.S. relies on accreditation to ensure quality and foster a culture of continuous improvement. See Accreditation, Institutional Accreditation, and National Accreditation sections for more information about the types of accreditation, the kinds of accreditors, and developments among institutional accreditors to review trends around the rapidly changing credentialing world and the need for changes in their policies.


Key Initiatives
Advancing Equity and Upward Mobility through Community College-Employer Partnerships (ACE-UP) Alabama Partnership with Credential Engine Alabama Talent Triad America Achieve’s Broadband Initiative American Opportunity Index Apprenticeships for America Initiative Business Higher Education Forum’s Workforce Partnership Initiative C-BEN Report: Interoperable Learning & Employment Records – Where knowledge and skills are transparent, accessible and easily shared Catalyze Registry College-in-Prison Programs Colorado’s Advancing Individual Ownership of Assets and Career Determination Initiative Competency Model Clearinghouse, US Department of Labor Credential As You Go CTE Leadership Collaborative CTE Without Borders Policy Playbook (Career & Technical Education) Expanding the Learner Record: XLR Project Global Alliance for Skills to Aid Economic Renaissance and Labor Market Transitions Job Quality Measurement Initiative & Good Jobs Initiative – U.S. Department of Labor Collaborative Just Equations Last Mile Report Launch: Equitable & Accelerated Pathways for All – Education Strategy Group MicroCreds National Project (Ireland) Midwest Credential Transparency Alliance (MCTA) National Pathways Initiative Noncredit and Credit Alignment Lab (NCAL) Pathways to Credentials – CTE Technical Assistance (US Department of Education) Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success, USDOE SHEEO RESEARCH SURVEY: State Priorities for Higher Education in 2023 Short-Term-Credential Typology (HCM Strategists) Skills-Driven State Community of Practice Initiative (NGA) Solutions for Information Design, LLC (SOLID) STARS – Skilled Through Alternative Routes – Opportunity@Work State Authorization Network (SAN) State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) The Good Jobs Project The Workforce Almanac Workforce Training Partnerships, Good Jobs Challenge, US Department of Commerce
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Alliances & Intermediaries
1EdTech Consortium AARP Foundation Achieving the Dream (ATD) Advance CTE AFL-CIO Working for America Institute (WAI) African American Mayors Association Albert Shanker Institute America Achieves American Association of State Colleges & Universities (AASCU) American Council on Education American Dental Education Association American Health Information Management Association(AHIMA) 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 Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Blockframe Brookings Institution Burning Glass Institute Business Roundtable (BRT) Business-Higher Education Forum Center for Employment Opportunities Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA), San Diego State University Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS) Center on Education & Labor at New America Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia Regional Foundation Charles Koch Foundation Chicanos Por La Causa Cognizant US Foundation College in High School Alliance (CHSA) Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) Complete College America Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) Credential Engine ECMC Foundation Education & Employment Research Center, School of Management & Labor Relations, Rutgers Education Commission of the States (ECS) Education Design Lab (the Lab) Education Finance Council Education Policy Program at New America Education Strategy Group (ESG) Education Trust Employment & Training Administration, USDOL European Union (EU) Excelencia in Education Frontier Set Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) Getting Smart Goodwill-Easter Seals Greater Houston Partnership Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) Harvard Project on Workforce Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) Higher Learning Advocates Hope Center for College, Communications & Justice HR Open Standards Consortium Hunt Institute Indiana Governor’s Workforce Cabinet Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Irvine Foundation Jobs for the Future Joint Center for Political & Economic Studies Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Local Initiatives Support Corporation Lumina Foundation McKinsey & Company MDRC Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) National Association of State Workforce Agencies National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) National Association of Workforce Boards National Career Development Association (NCDA) National Center for Higher Educational Management Services (NCHEMS) National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) National Early Care & Education Workforce Center (ECE Workforce Center) National Governors Association (NGA) National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) National Partnership for Women & Families National Skills Coalition National Urban League New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) New Profit North East Community Action Corporation 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 Pathstone Inc. (Puerto Rico) Philadelphia Youth Network Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC) Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) Postsecondary State Network Rand Corporation Rework America Alliance San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation SOLID (Solutions for Information Design), LLC Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) SRI International Stand Together State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Strada Education Network Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) Initiative The T3 Innovation Network Third Way U.S. Economic Development Administration UnidosUS University Professional and Continuing Education Association- UPCEA Urban Institute US Chamber of Commerce Foundation WestEd Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Workcred Working Nation WorkRise Young Invincibles (YI)
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