Stacking credentials can lower earnings gaps and increase equity, according to a new report from the RAND Corp.
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- Earning multiple, stackable credentials can help combat earnings gaps, according to the RAND Corp.
- Stackable credentials are “a series of postsecondary credentials that can be earned over time and that build on each other to prepare individuals for different needs for knowledge and skills throughout a career.”
- Low-income students are underrepresented in fields with the highest economic return for stackable credentials, and they are overrepresented in fields with little opportunity for stacking credentials.
- States should continue to invest in high-value stackable credential programs and reach out to historically underserved students, according to the report.
Low-income students earned multiple credentials at higher rates than their middle- and high-income peers — and those stacked credentials helped narrow earnings gaps.
Stackable credentials are “a series of postsecondary credentials that can be earned over time and that build on each other to prepare individuals for different needs for knowledge and skills throughout a career,” according to a new report from the RAND Corp.
The RAND Corp. analyzed programs in Colorado and Ohio and found that, although earning stacked credentials can boost equity by cutting back on earnings gaps, low-income students are often overrepresented in fields that lack opportunities for stacked credentials like culinary arts.
Low-income students are also underrepresented in fields where stacked credentials lead to the highest returns on investment, like engineering and information technology.
Students have increasingly seen nondegree and alternative education pathways as valuable in recent years. BestColleges reported in 2021 that students who earned both a degree and nondegree credential rated their educational experience as higher than those who earned only a degree.
A report earlier this year by Collegis Education and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) said that most employers find value in nondegree credential programs and found credentials to be helpful in combating skill gaps, although employers also worried about irrelevant credentials and the quality of credentials.
Employers have increasingly dropped degree requirements in recent years in favor of specific skill sets, BestColleges previously reported, including both individual businesses and state governments.
The number of students with some college but no credential has been on the rise following the COVID-19 pandemic, BestColleges reported. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that there were more than 40 million students with some college but no credential as of July 2021.
The RAND report recommends that states and colleges focus on high-value credential programs and continue to offer stackable credentials to students. Schools and government officials alike should also ensure that those programs reach historically underserved populations, according to the report summary.
“States and institutions should ensure that low-income individuals and other historically underserved populations are aware of stackable programs and credential value,” the report reads.
“Enhancing state and local informational resources, better leveraging career services, providing additional resources to enhance advising, and encouraging greater partnership with industry were several suggestions from stakeholders for how to improve awareness of stackable credential programs.”