Key Takeaways

  • Credentialing is a solution to support more effective and efficient learning journeys towards family-sustaining wages.
  • Credentialing is a two-sided market with value and interoperability challenges.
  • Technology, in the form of Learning and Employment Records (stored in Digital Wallets), can accelerate the credential movement.


Imagine a comprehensive set of credentials in a community or region that supports pathways to family-sustaining-wage occupations. This could be done through the creation of a coherent single set of competencies connected to credentials that satisfy secondary education graduation requirements, connect to industry-recognized credentials, and cover core, technical, and transferable skills. When the possibility of credentialed learning is reached, every learner in a region will have a Learning and Employment Record that accurately and dynamically describes skill sets, competencies, and credentials.


When a learner completes a program of study, they receive credentials. These credentials validate that the learner has demonstrated proficiency in all the recognized skills. A high school diploma and numerous industry certifications are credentials that often play a gatekeeping role for employment.   

Credentials are well-established in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) ecosystem of secondary education and within employment sectors requiring specific technical skills. Most CTE programs emphasize technical skills rather than core or transferable skills. Although transferable skills (such as communication, collaboration, leadership, and project management) are rarely evaluated, many recognize them as increasingly important for the workplace. Programs continue to define core skills (like mathematics and literacy) through a list of courses and grades and to assess these via standards through national assessments. These measurements of core skills tend to be weak signals for long-term success. While over a million different credentials are available for learners from high school through employment, many are at a grain size that serves only as a proxy for skill assertion rather than the assertion itself. 

Often embedded within CTE programs, pathways to credentialing include academy programs, internships, apprenticeship models, and whole-school models that incorporate some element of work-based learning—where students earn high school credit while embedded in the workplace.  

While there is a high level of interest in work-based learning, participation is low due to the complexity of implementation. Work-based learning is a particularly good way for students to develop a sense of purpose/vocational direction and authentically build both technical and transferable skills. Since work-based learning falls outside of traditional forms of measurement, it provides an opportunity for credentialing.

Additional work-based learning opportunities occur in postsecondary settings with certification programs in the community college system and internships in four-year degree programs. Throughout a career, certifications are available in some sectors for employees to continue learning and growing.

Despite the credentialing success of the CTE programs and the availability of credentials, the challenge remains around how to describe valuable (value-creating) capabilities around core, technical, and transferable competencies that are helpful to every learner and meaningful to higher education and the workforce.


With support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, more than 80 high schools in 32 school systems in metro Kansas City are adding Real World Learning experiences including client projects, entrepreneurial experiences, internships, college credit and industry-recognized credentials. The goal that all students will graduate with these valuable experiences mobilized thousands of business and civic partners who appreciate the value of this new signaling system. 

Design Principle - Intentional


Digital wallets aren’t as far off as they seem. In the 22-23 school year, North Dakota implemented the first state-sponsored digital credential wallet for high school students. This wallet serves as a valuable record of learning experiences and is transferable to different settings. 


Credential Engine works with states and regions to identify and curate all existing credentials (including diplomas, certificates, degrees, etc.). Based on the Perkins V funding legislation, states must complete a CTE Needs Assessment every two years to ensure that the CTE programs are aligned with regional economic needs (see, e.g., Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois).


Western Governors University, a leader in dynamic solutions for high education, gives credit for previously earned industry-recognized credentials (IRCs).

Credentialed Learning

Document Process 

Build case studies of transitions from grades to competency to credential to provide replicable pathways for other higher education institutions.

Build Agreements

Build agreements on common transferable competencies and credentials shared by higher ed and employers.


Invest in state-sponsored initiatives to create verified digital credential solutions for K-12 education.

Every learner deserves an unlimited number of unbundled opportunities to explore, engage, and define experiences that advance their progress along a co-designed educational pathway. Each pathway provides equitable and personalized access to stacked learning experiences leading to post-secondary credentials and secure family-sustaining employment. This vision is only enabled by an unbundled learning ecosystem.

Considerations for Getting Started

Promote competency-based education and credentials across K-12 and higher education.

Incentivize K-12 and higher education institutions to shift from traditional grades to assessing competencies that lead to recognized credentials. Develop systems like a credential transcript recognized by educational institutions and employers, facilitating seamless pathways between learning and career opportunities.

Strengthen partnerships for real world learning.

Establish collaborations between K-12 schools, higher education, and employers to provide students with real-world learning experiences contributing to credential acquisition. Support legislative efforts that allow for a broader range of learning experiences, including those outside traditional classroom settings, to be recognized for credentialing.

Leverage technology to enhance learning and credential verification.

Build and invest in digital platforms and technologies, such as blockchain and digital wallets, to document and verify learning achievements and competencies in a secure, accessible manner. Encourage the adoption of Web3 technologies to develop innovative, decentralized models of education that connect learners directly with credentialing opportunities.

Expand access to credentialing opportunities in higher education and employment.

Develop protocols and partnerships recognizing competency-based credentials in college admissions and workplace hiring, including accommodations for students receiving financial aid. Encourage employers to actively participate in credentialing, recognizing competencies gained through work experience, and developing skills-matching technologies.

Foster collaboration and best practices sharing.

Catalog successful credentialing models, such as high school badging programs and employer credentialing initiatives, and promote these through networks of educational and industrial partners. Create toolkits and case studies to guide institutions and organizations in transitioning to competency-based education and credentialing systems.

Invest in research and development for continuous improvement.

Support ongoing research to align educational competencies with employer needs, ensuring that credentialing programs remain relevant and valuable in the evolving job market. Commit resources to the development and enhancement of technologies and methodologies that facilitate efficient and effective credentialing and learning validation processes.