Given the anticipated demand for – and investment in – non-degree credentials, it is imperative to be able to differentiate between quality credentials and those which lack quality. There is a need to ensure that current and future investments support individuals to earn quality credentials which support their entry or re-entry into the workforce.

Assessing the quality of certification and certificates can be challenging, but there is a set of core questions which can be used to screen for quality credentials. If answered in the affirmative, it is an indication of quality, with more affirmative answered indicative of a higher quality credential.

These questions are meant to provide guidance on which credentials are likely to support workers to succeed in the workforce. They were developed to be answered using easy-to-find, publicly available information.

For both certifications and certificates

To assess validity of skills:

  • Was industry involved in creating the credential, and to what extent?
  • Were there any formal endorsements by industry?

To assess validity of the development process:

  • Is it accredited by a third party, such as ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) or National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)?

To assess validity of the assessment processes:

  • Is this credential supported by a national or international standard (e.g., ISO/IEC 17024:2012, Conformity assessment -- General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons, and ASTM E2659-18, Standard Practice for Certificate Programs)?

Additional questions for certificates

To assess the valuation of competencies:

  • Does it have an assessment that measures learning outcomes, and what form does that assessment take?

To assess the quality of the instruction:,

  • How is the content taught or made available?
  • Is the content taught by recognized subject matter experts?

To assess the appropriateness of the instruction:

  • Do the teaching strategies support achieving the learning outcomes?

Additional questions for certifications

To assess validity of the certification body:

  • Is the certification body a stand-alone, independent organization, or is it part of or affiliated with another organization?
    • If the certification body is part of another organization, how does it maintain independence from the functions of the other organization (e.g., the membership function)?
  • Was a job task analysis done to support the validity of the certification?
    • If so, was there a validation survey conducted? When was it last conducted?
    • Was there a representative sample of industry included in the analysis?

To assess validity of skills:

  • Does the certification support a recognized occupation or specialty?
  • What, if any, competing certifications address the same purpose (scope)?
  • What employers/types of employers seek out candidates with this certification?
  • Is this credential connected to state licensure? Which states recognize the certification (e.g., all, a majority)?
  • Who are the stakeholders that interact and build the certification?

To assess the assessment of competencies:

  • Does it have a standardized examination?
  • Are the certification exam items reviewed for bias related to gender, race, ethnicity, geographic location, etc.?
  • Are certification exam items written to specific task statements to ensure the questions are measuring what they are supposed to be measuring?
  • What rationale and data is used to establish the prerequisites to sit for the exam?
  • What security measures are taken while delivering the examination?
  • Was there a nationally recognized process for determining pass/fail of the examination?
  • What is the pass rate for individuals taking the certification exam?
  • Does the certification body have a policy that indicates how often the certification exam is updated?
    • If so, what is the process to continually improve the certification program?
    • If not, how is the certification exam updated, or is it?

To assess the maintenance of competencies:

  • Does it have processes for expiration, recertification, and revocation (due to unethical or incompetent conduct)?
For additional insights and opinions on quality, see our Point of View blog page.