However, the explosive growth of online learning has made it tough for learners, employers, and public policymakers to gauge the quality of these thousands of options. A quality assurance process can benefit states who need a way to effectively and efficiently allocate limited financial resources to training programs for displaced workers who need to reskill. Quality criteria can also help states address racial and other equity gaps by providing more pathways into quality postsecondary education and training and good jobs for people of color, thereby ensuring an inclusive economic recovery.
In 2019, National Skills Coalition worked with 12 states to review how they were using employment, earnings, and competencies to set quality standards for credentials. The analysis – and feedback from research and advocacy organizations with expertise in higher education and workforce policy, including those with a racial equity mission – led to the development of a vetted consensus definition of quality non-degree credentials that can be evaluated through data.
Quality assurance tied to data can help individuals identify the right program and credential for their circumstances while avoiding low-quality or ineffective options. It can also help businesses ensure that the competencies and skills obtained by individuals will be what they need on the job. Reliable data iscritical to ensuring that quality assurance definitions are student-focused and support equitable credential attainment.
States should also look at where to embed quality assurance credential definitions in state policies. Policy options could include a state-level legislative request to adopt quality assurance for credentials or polices to support the increased attainment of quality credentials, such as expanding state financial aid or other training funds or expanding apprenticeship and other work-based learning models. Policies could also be agency-specific and require, for instance, that all publicly funded training programs meet minimum quality standards. States that National Skills Coalition is currently working with in a Quality Postsecondary Credential Policy Academy are looking at quality assurance policies that can be applied to the state’s Eligible Training Provider List, or training approved for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds.
Finally, and beyond quality criteria, it’s important to remember that access to other resources and supportive services, like free or low-cost computers, broadband access, childcare, or other supports may be needed for learners to successfully participate in online training and complete their credential.