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First Credential for Adults

Pathways to initial credentials – including workforce certificates and industry certifications – exist for adults who have not yet pursued education beyond high school.

In today’s knowledge economy, where postsecondary skills are vital to getting and keeping a good job, all Americans need opportunities for learning beyond high school leading to a quality credential. But millions of Americans, including low-income working adults, now lack a viable way to earn recognized credentials. For the most part, working adults need shorter-term programs that lead to an immediate improvement in their quality of life. Post high school certificates (non-degree credentials usually issued by community colleges and other higher education institutions) and certifications (industry-recognized credentials which represent demonstrated skills and knowledge in demand by employers) are valuable credentials that can serve as this first rung on the ladder of economic opportunity.

Because most certificates are based on academic credit, they offer pathways to further learning, including degrees, and we already include them in the count toward the 60% attainment goal. An additional 3.3 million Americans hold a certification related to their current job as their highest credential. Getting a quality certification could help millions more obtain good jobs leading to careers and further education. Unfortunately, the learning that certifications represent is not transparent, and the paths forward from them to further education and credentials, including degrees, are not clear. The national system of transparent postsecondary credentials that Lumina and its partners are working to create will bring transparency to certifications and allow us to count them toward the goal.

However, it is essential that certificates and certifications not be a dead end for Americans from groups that have been underrepresented in higher education. Creating strong pathways to degrees for certificate and certification holders must be a high priority, and Lumina will work to develop these pathways and ensure they are broadly implemented. Indeed, quality certificates can be a key part of a credential ladder that motivates first-generation students to pursue more education than they otherwise would have. Consequently, we will work to ensure that all first credentials, including certificates and certifications, offer clear pathways to further education, including degrees.

We will also work to bring opportunities to earn credentials to the most vulnerable and marginalized Americans, including those who are incarcerated. We believe all who leave prison should have a quality credential—be it a certificate, certification or degree—so they have the best possible chance to re-enter society and become productive citizens.

The national system of transparent credentials will allow the valuable skills learned by millions in the military, the skills brought to this country by immigrants, and the even greater array of skills and knowledge obtained on the job and through employer-proved training to be recognized and applied to high-quality credentials. Lumina will work to ensure that the broader learning outcomes of job training—including those from employers and all publicly-funded workforce development programs—are recognized with appropriate credit that leads to certificates and credentials.

Learning obtained from libraries, museums, social service organizations, the military, volunteer activities, independent study using open, online courses, and numerous other providers can and should also count. Finding ways to recognize all of this learning would expand opportunity for millions of Americans who desperately need it.