​Why New Jersey Is Banking on a Credential Registry to Boost Its Middle...

Workforce Training

​Why New Jersey Is Banking on a Credential Registry to Boost Its Middle Class

By Sydney Johnson     Dec 7, 2017

​Why New Jersey Is Banking on a Credential Registry to Boost Its Middle Class

This article is part of the guide: A Lifetime of Back to School: Microcredentials in Higher Education.

State officials in New Jersey recently announced an ambitious goal to arm 65 percent of the state’s workforce with at least one postsecondary credential by 2025. That’s about 15 percent more than the state’s current higher-education attainment. And to get there, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development is partnering with a new nonprofit that’s taking on its own arduous task: Create an index of every available higher-ed credential.

“If you look at the labor market data and where we think jobs will be created, it’s clear to us that most jobs require some education after high school,” says Aaron Fichtner, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “But not every job created requires 4-year degree, and we want to prepare people for the opportunities that exist in the future.”

Credential Engine, a nonprofit funded by the Lumina Foundation, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, today launched its Credential Registry, a digital platform where institutions can upload degrees and credentials so prospective students can search for and compare credentials side-by-side.

Currently there are nearly 175 different organizations that have submitted a total of more than 1,500 credentials to the platform, according to Scott Cheney, the project’s executive director. But that’s still far short of the platform’s target; Cheney estimates that around 250,000 credentials exist in the U.S., from certificates to Ph.Ds.

While a daunting task from any angle, the platform will source credentials from education providers themselves (meaning it’s not up to Credential Engine to input all 250,000 credentials and their quality assurance information). And while any institution can upload credentials to the registry, New Jersey is one of only two statewide efforts to bring credentials onto the registry. (The other is Indiana).

Fichtner explains that New Jersey’s partnership with Credential Engine, which also involves the state Department of Education and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, would require uploading state industry-valued credentials—including anything from 4-year degrees to professional certificates—to the Credential Registry.

To technically put the credentials on the platform, colleges and other education providers in New Jersey can choose to use the registry’s API, or perform a bulk or manual upload.

Placing the credentials and their meta-data will likely be less laborious, however, than choosing which credentials officials want to highlight to best expand the state's workforce. Fichtner explains that prior to the official partnership, the Department completed a long-term analysis that found 200 credentials considered to be valuable in the state’s labor market. Each fell within the following industries: advanced manufacturing, transportation, logistics and distribution, healthcare, construction and utilities, and retail, hospitality and tourism.

The state first has plans to upload 10 credentials, and eventually has sights set on all 200 of the industry-valued credentials. The hope is that by placing credentials on the registry, students will be able to better compare their education options—while the state can put an emphasis on pathways toward industries that are growing for middle class workers.

“We want students and job-seekers to make better decisions so they spend dollars in places that allow them to get a credential that is a stepping-stone to a new job,” says Fichtner.

What’s not listed in the state’s blueprint to reach 65 percent credential attainment by 2025 is any focus on the increasingly popular option of microcredentials, short-term online credential programs touted by online education providers and increasingly traditional not-for-profit universities as well.

“It's really important that we are helping people get in a pathway that … has credits attached to it,” says Fichtner. Credential Engine wants to bring on all kinds of credentials, and that includes the “nanodegrees” and “MicroMasters” from platforms like Udacity and edX.

Still debated is to what extent those kinds of microcredentials are valued by employers, which is why officials in New Jersey are reluctant to put any eggs in that basket just yet. However, the commissioner is interested in the fact that the registry will feature these kinds of credentials. He hopes the index might help the department better understand the microcredential market, and if those should one day be added to the state’s list of industry-valued credentials.

“This is a rapidly-changing environment,” he says. “One reason Credential Engine is important is that it will give us an opportunity to learn and think through policies and programs—and to take advantage of changes in the credential marketplace.”

Cheney, the executive director at Credential Engine, warmly welcomes the newer credential providers, perhaps that’s because he is more optimistic about where they stand in the market. “[EdX] is one of the participants in our pilot... If [a credential] has value in the labor market, then we want it on the registry.”

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