More adults will earn initial credentials after high school through short-term and innovative programs at community colleges.

The landscape for credentialing in the United States is complex and varied. Many short-term and newly designed credential programs give learners pathways to credentials that have immediate labor-market value and prepare them for more learning, including more advanced credentials such as associate and bachelor’s degrees. Today, nearly half of adults who lack credentials after high school believe they need additional education to advance. Most say the top reasons to go back to school are improved employment outcomes such as job placements and higher wages, along with longer-term employment opportunities. However, these objectives can be achieved by many more adults only if closer relationships are established among educational institutions, labor unions, employers, industry groups, and economic-development organizations.

While the number of certificate and certification programs has grown during the past 20 years, few systematic efforts have been made to ensure these programs meet labor-market demand and address the specific needs of students of color, working adults, women, and students from low-income backgrounds. Bachelor’s and associate degrees are often the best credentials for success in work and life, but short-term credentials such as quality certificates and certifications can be valuable stepping stones on the path to other learning and work opportunities.

Lumina will work with community and technical colleges to focus on strategic efforts designed to help 2.6 million more U.S. adults earn quality, short-term, and innovative credentials than will be awarded based on current estimates. These strategies will aim to improve affordability, add flexibility, and align with employment and occupational demands.