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Emily Stahly

As we learn more about the effects of industry-recognized credentials (IRC) for high schoolers, the more impressive these credentials appear to be. 

IRCs are awarded by third-party industry organizations and certify that students have mastered skills needed for a particular job such as a welder, automotive technician, certified nursing assistant, or software developer. Recent research from ExcelinEd shows that, in addition to improving employment prospects, earning an IRC is associated with increases in graduation rates, college enrollment, and earnings.

In the study, which was released this month, researchers looked at outcomes for hundreds of thousands of students and found overall positive outcomes for IRC earners. In Florida, Indiana, and Kentucky, earning an IRC was positively associated with graduating from high school on time. Students in Florida and Kentucky who had earned an IRC were more likely to receive an associate’s degree if they enrolled in community college. The researchers also observed up to a 12 percent boost in wages for full-time workers after high school in Florida and Indiana.

The only potentially negative effect the researchers observed was that credential earners in Kentucky were less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree if they enrolled at a four-year college or university. One possible explanation they provided is that “the opportunity cost of each additional year of education is higher for credential earners than non-earners.” In other words, students just may not have thought it was worth finishing a bachelor’s degree and would rather be working.

Unfortunately, high schoolers in Missouri earn only about 8,000 IRCs each year, meaning that only a small fraction of the over 180,000 high school students who participate in a career and technical education program earn an IRC.

Some states have enacted policies that reflect the value they see in credential-earning, and Missouri should take note. For instance, Florida implemented a bonus program for teachers awarding them $25 or $50 for each student who earned an IRC. During the 2007–08 school year when the program started Florida high schoolers earned only 803 credentials total. Last year, they collectively earned over 121,000 IRCs.

Missouri policymakers have already shown a willingness to invest in our workforce—the legislature just passed Fast Track this session to help adults who want to pursue degrees in high-demand fields—but are they funding programs that are proven to work? Clearly, financial incentives have worked to get more students IRCs in Florida, and students have benefitted. With such a payoff for a relatively small investment, teacher bonus pay looks like a win-win-win for the state, teachers, and students.

Listen to our podcast on this subject here.

About the Author

Emily Stahly

Emily Stahly is an analyst at the Show-Me Institute. She earned her B.A. in politics from Hillsdale College in Michigan and is researching education with the Show-Me Institute.