Credential Lab Service & Innovation Center – Higher Learning Commission

Last Updated: 04/04/2024

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The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) launched the Credential Lab in September 2023 with initial funding support from Lumina Foundation. The Credential Lab is a hub that supports educational providers, employers, and learners in navigating the complex and growing ecosystem of alternative postsecondary credentials.

The Credential Lab's work is focused in two areas: creating a quality assurance system for credential content providers, and supporting colleges, universities, and other educational providers to ensure quality short-term learning experiences and outcomes.

HLC has convened several expert stakeholders to help lead the development of the Credential Lab. A quality assurance design team is creating standards and processes for assuring the quality of credential content providers. This quality assurance service will lead to a review against the standards to endorse of providers who demonstrate the evidenced-based requirements. This work recognizes that while the changing marketplace increasingly includes short-term certificates and alternative credentials for learners, the rapid growth of such credentials is not always accompanied by transparent quality assurance needed to help consumers navigate the wide range of providers and opportunities for lifelong learning.

In February 2024, HLC’s Credential Lab received a three-year grant from ECMC Foundation to jumpstart the Credential Lab Innovation Center, which will offer educational providers from within and outside of higher education resources, programming, and a model for ensuring high quality credentials. Like many of HLC’s elective services, participation in this initiative will be separate from an institution’s accreditation relationship.

The key focus of the Innovation Center includes:

  • Curating a growing body of evidence-based alternative credentialing practices.
  • Reinforcing effective partnerships throughout the credentialing ecosystem, including collaborations among and between sectors, colleges and universities, employers and industries, other credential-focused organizations, states, and workforce development organizations.
  • Enhancing and promoting learners’ credit mobility, transferability, and learning recognition.
  • Helping to demonstrate the real and perceived value of lifelong learning for learners, employers and industries, and communities.

Survey on Alternative Credential Offerings and Quality Assurance

HLC surveyed its member institutions in May 2023 to learn about their alternative credential programs and needs related to those offerings: 2023 Survey on Alternative Credential Offerings and Quality Assurance Needs: Report of Findings. HLC emailed its survey to 2,576 institutional representatives, including Chief Executive Officers, Chief Academic Officers, and Accreditation Liaison Officers.  A total of 499 responses were received (19% response rate). Most respondents represented public and private not-for profit institutions (264 and 210 responses, respectively). Participation from tribal colleges and private for-profit institutions accounted for 5% of the total number of respondents.

The survey found that:

  • 73% of the respondents’ institutions offer some forms of alternative credentials.
  • 91% anticipate growth in alternative credential programs offerings at their institutions.
  • 73% anticipate their institutions to grow in the area of stand-alone offerings.
  • 83% are interested in assistance and information in financial modeling, 86% in new business models, and 80% in contractual terms and conditions.
  • 86% report needing assistance or information in areas such as the provider’s quality assurance metrics, 80% in the role of industry and/or employers in the credential offering creation, 80% in the credential provider’s experience with other accredited institutions, 79% in content creation practices, 74% in content update frequency, and 55% in the financial health of the credential provider.
  • 84% indicate interest in a member benefit like a Credential Lab Service, and 71% in a member service to vet external content providers.
  • 51% indicate interest in helping to create a Quality Assurance Framework for external content providers.


Lumina Foundation, ECMC Foundation


Credential Lab receives ECMC grant (Feb. 26, 2024) - PDF

Evolving: Accreditation and the Credential Landscape (2022) - PDF

HLC 2023 Survey - PDF

HLC Launches New Credential Lab to Meet a Quality Assurance Need (Sept. 18, 2023) - PDF




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