Non-degree Credentials Research Network (NCRN)

The Non-Degree Credentials Research Network (NCRN) is a project funded through a grant from Lumina Foundation and managed by researchers at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP). The NCRN is a multi-disciplinary community of scholars, practitioners and policymakers that focuses on the little-understood role of certificates, certifications and other non-degree credentials in the labor market. If you are interested in joining NCRN please contact Kyle Albert at GWIPP.


The NCRN Project aims to: 
  • Create a knowledge-sharing and collaboration-facilitating network of researchers with expertise on the distribution, production, consumption, use and value of non-degree workforce credentials
  • Assess the current state of our knowledge about such credentials, map existing research, and identify needs and opportunities for new research; and
  • Produce an annual synthesis of what is learned, including recommendations for educational and workforce development practice and policy; and
  • Communicate effectively the lessons learned to practitioners and policymakers as well as the broader research community.  

Who are we? 

We are a network of researchers working on various types of non-degree credentialing including licenses, certifications, apprenticeships, certificates, and micro-credentials. The NCRN includes experts from higher education institutions, research firms, and nonprofit organizations, among others. 

Reports and Resources 

map with "new directions for non-degree credentials research"

Upcoming Events

NCRN Conference: Non-degree Credentials on the Move
After two years of meeting on Zoom, we're excited to return to an in-person meeting format just over six weeks from today. We will be meeting April 28-29 at the American Institute of Architects Conference Center in Washington, DC. The conference will include discussions and panels on such topics as public policy, higher education, international developments in microcredentials, data issues, and more. 

2022 NCRN Request for Proposals

The NCRN is pleased to announce its second round RFP supported by Lumina Foundation. Taking into account feedback from the first round RFP,  we are merging the two categories of awards initially planned (microgrants, research contracts) into a single stream. We expect to award five contracts of $10,000. The deadline for submitting preliminary concepts through our submission form is April 15, 2022. We will invite up to 10 semi-finalists to submit more detailed applications, which we will evaluate in consultation with our advisory council. Final decisions will be made by June 15, 2022. Please share the RFP with interested colleagues, including graduate students and early-career researchers, and reach out to Kyle Albert with any questions. 

NCRN Announces Research Contracts 

1. Labor Market Returns Associated with Certificate Programs in the Arts
Christos Makridis, Arizona State University

There is an increasing recognition that arts graduates, as well as others within the broader "creative economy," have poor labor market outcomes, particularly after accounting for the debt they incur as a result of expensive college degree programs. This is especially unfortunate for minorities who bear a large debt burden, unable to borrow from parents to finance their college education, and that burden can tie graduates down for years following graduation. Despite these unsatisfactory education and employment outcomes, colleges have done little to reform their curriculum in the arts.
This research seeks to create an entirely new dataset to measure the incidence and composition of arts certificate programs across major U.S. universities. For example, how many of the universities have arts certificates programs? Among these, are entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills emphasized? Furthermore, is there an experiential component? All these are critical questions given that artists increasingly are gig workers who need entrepreneurship skills in order to succeed in the labor market and experience to actually cultivate their innate talent. After developing such a list, my plan is to link the arts certificate information with the Post Secondary Education Outcomes data. How do arts graduates at colleges with such certificate programs nperform, relative to counterparts? I will use the funding to hire a research assistant to help take an inventory on these arts programs.

2. Using Canadian Data on Registered Apprenticeships to Inform U.S. Policy
Tingting Zhang, University of Illinois

Using a linked administrative data from Canada, I propose to look into how different training modalities affect apprenticeship program participants’ labor market trajectories. Both the US and Canada anticipate a vast labor shortage of skilled trades in the next few years, so it is critical to provide timely evidence of the labor market effects of apprenticeship experience. There is very little evidence on to what extend different apprenticeship training modalities affect program participants’ labor market outcomes. One key reason for the lack of evidence is that data linking education and the labor market is challenging to find. The Canadian ELMLP (Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Linkage Platform) provides unique opportunities to examine such questions. The data link the Registered Apprenticeship Information System, the Post- Secondary Information System, and the longitudinal T1 Family File (tax records) of 20% Canadians between 2004 and the present. I intend to use the results to draw recommendations and provide supporting evidence to the US Department of Labor’s plan to expand, modernize, and diversify the national apprenticeship models. The NCRN microgrant will be used to cover the data access housed at the Statistics Canada Research Data Center. The microgrant is sufficient to explore the data, so I can use the preliminary findings to apply for other external funding sources.

3. Survey of Postsecondary Institutions on the Integration of Work-Based Learning in Non-degree Credentials
Becky Klein-Collins, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

First, we will conduct a literature review to identify the top industry-recognized credentials (e.g., professional licenses, certifications, and apprenticeships) in several industries (e.g., healthcare, construction, accounting/finance, transportation, mechanic/repair, computer science, and manufacturing) and the extent to which these
credentials have historically incorporated work-based learning. We would also rely on several recent research reports on nondegree credentials, including from Strada Consumer Insights, Opportunity America, and National Skills Coalition. (Strada's research units may also be consulted -- and datasets tapped -- for this project. CAEL is an affiliate organization in the Strada Education Network.) CAEL has more than 600 members, most of which are postsecondary institutions, and more than 90 are community colleges. In addition, CAEL provides contracted technical assistance to community colleges and community college systems. We would survey a subgroup of CAEL member institutions/partners to ask about the types of nondegree credentials they offer in the industries listed above: whether they offer industry-recognized credentials, short-term educational certificates, or both; the data used to determine what credentials to offer; whether those programs incorporate work-based learning components (and what kind - such as apprenticeship models, paid internships, unpaid internships, co-ops, or clinicals); whether they train participants on general work readiness competencies (e.g., critical thinking, teamwork, etc.). If the response rate for the survey is low, we will supplement this research with individual interviews of up to 7- 10 community colleges.

4. Survey of Employers’ Attitudes on Non-degree Credentials
Jim Fong, University Professional and Continuing Education Association

UPCEA, in collaboration with some of its partners, wishes to survey employers on their perception toward new or alternative credentials and their needs for non-degree options. We have conducted extensive surveys on the adult and professional learner, but the decision-maker often times is the employer and their voice is missing. UPCEA conducted a survey of over 2,000 generational managers in 2018 and found significant differences in perception regarding the acceptance of alternative credential and online options. UPCEA would like to explore this further and measure how perceptions and attitudes have changed given that in 4-5 years, Millennials and Gen X leaders are making more of the decisions regarding employee training and education. We believe that they will play a major role in reshaping higher education. We believe that employers view education and training more strategically in terms of employee retention and recruitment, as well as with organizational success. Depending on budgets, we hope to survey 1000-2000 employers using an Internet research panel and producing reports, whitepapers and other tools (releases, infographics, webinars) to release the findings. We are currently working with InsideTrack as one of our partners. InsideTrack is providing some funding, but not enough to cover the $20,000 to $30,000 outside costs of the panel. UPCEA is contributing 400-500 hours of labor to the effort.

5. Analysis of the Labor Market Outcomes of High-Tech Apprenticeships
Jason Jabbari, Washington University in St. Louis

We have a long-standing research-practice partnership with LaunchCode, a program that uniquely combine a free coding certificate program with a paid apprenticeship. We recently collected a large survey consisting of 1,000 individuals with 4 groups of people: (1) those who applied, but did not get in; (2) those who got in, but did not finish; (3) those that completed the course, but not the apprenticeship, and (4) those that completed the course and the apprenticeship. In addition to demographic, employment, and other financial information, we collected 4 geographic data points: (a) their current zip code and street intersection; (b) their zip code and intersection prior to applying to LaunchCode; (c) the current zip code and street intersection of their employer; and (d) the zip code and intersection of their employer prior to applying to LaunchCode. We will merge survey data with demographic and employment data from the American Community Survey. First, we will use a regression discontinuity design (based on application test scores) to ascertain the role of apprenticeships in predicting the likelihood of moving, as well as the likely hood of moving to higher opportunity areas. Next, we will use geospatial techniques to test how far individuals move (Euclidean distances), as well as clustering effects (e.g.; clustering around technology sectors). Finally, we will run subsample and interaction models to see if there differences differ by race/ethnicity, gender, and social class.

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