A New Approach to Postsecondary Credentials

In a recent piece for the Houston Chronicle, Chris Tomlinson raises important points about how the labor climate today is vastly different than how it was before 2020.

46% of employers can’t fill vital jobs today, and since 2011, Texas saw job growth primarily in mid-low- and low-wage jobs, while mid-high- and high-wage jobs were being lost.

71% of Texas jobs will require some kind of postsecondary credential by 2036. To keep up with the evolving labor climate, we need to reward Texans’ higher education investments while giving employers a tangible credential to work with in their hiring decisions by aligning higher education programs with living wage career pathways, and uplifting all postsecondary credentials, including non-degree credentials.

There are existing ways to deliver valuable returns to Texans working to earn a postsecondary credential. As Tomlinson correctly stated, designating a bachelor’s degree as a minimum credential overlooks a significant portion of the American workforce. There are currently over 2.2 million Texans with some college experience but no degree. Despite their experiences, both in and out of higher education, these Texans are arbitrarily cut off from jobs requiring a credential.

In order to mitigate these drop-offs and hopefully provide these Texans with the credential they need, we must guarantee that postsecondary credentials remain valuable in today’s labor climate. The Legislature took a proactive step in this direction this past regular session by passing H.B. 3767, the Texas Education and Workforce Alignment Act, to better leverage the state’s existing and future education and workforce efforts.

H.B. 3767 will require state agencies to align career education and training programs with workforce demands, and develop career pathways that lead to a living wage. Not only will this maximize the state’s education and workforce returns, but it will also provide Texans with accessible and understandable information on which programs will give them their best shot at earning a living wage.

Additionally, as Tomlinson suggests with apprenticeships, we must uplift all high-value postsecondary credential opportunities available in Texas. Alongside apprenticeships, there are certificate programs, industry-aligned certifications, boot camps, and private and online credential programs, which all provide Texans with accessible, affordable, and valuable pathways to a living wage. For example, looking specifically at state-certificate programs, the first-year annual earnings of 2017 Texas graduates showed that certificate holders earned $4,000 more on average than associate degree holders.

We can do more to support attainment pathways for non-degree credentials, such as rewarding community colleges for helping their students attain these credentials. We can also identify ways to better integrate low-cost, career-aligned private credentials into state planning efforts and metrics. For example, Google Coursera offers programs for a part-time student to complete an IT Professional Certificate for $39 per month, which qualifies them for computer support specialist positions with a median annual wage of $47,459 in Texas. These valuable and inexpensive private credentials are not currently incorporated with the state’s accountability and tracking systems, leading to notable data gaps that prevent us from tracking lower-cost postsecondary options. Investing in these pathways would provide Texans with greater flexibility as they consider their higher education options.

Certainly, we can do a better job with both preparing and evaluating Texans for the workforce. Tomlinson reveals one symptom of that by looking at how employers rely too much on bachelor’s degrees. By providing Texans with clear pathways to a living wage, and securing a strong return-on-investment across all postsecondary credentials, we can transform the labor climate for a majority of both Texas employers and employees.