The Role of Certifications and Licenses in State Post-Secondary Attainment Goals

The above map shows state post-secondary attainment goals. Scroll over a state to see more information on its attainment goals.

This article is part of a series of reports on new estimates from the Labor Market Information Institute State Certification and Licenses Data Tables. Find previous blog posts in this series here.

Forty-two states have set goals for the attainment of post-secondary credentials, including degrees and certificates. This blogpost explores how these goals vary by state with special attention to whether and how states measure the attainment of professional credentials like certifications and licenses. [1]

Fifty States, Forty-Two Different Attainment Goals

State educational attainment goals are generally focused on increasing the overall level of education among state residents. States prioritize different types of credentials, including some and excluding others, and set goals for different sub-populations, focusing only on people in the workforce or setting specific goals for younger workers and new labor market entrants. States measure progress toward their goals in different ways as well, using different national and state databases to track educational attainment.

There are some similarities across states as well. Among the 42 states that have set goals, 31 measure attainment among the population ages 25 to 64, regardless of employment status.

Goals in three states measure the attainment of credentials only among the state’s workforce. Six states aim to increase the attainment of post-secondary credentials among their young adult population (ages 25-34). Minnesota and Washington set their attainment goals for working adults ages 25 to 44. Colorado and Pennsylvania aim to increase educational attainment among persons from traditionally underrepresented populations, reducing gaps in attainment among white and non-white populations.

Attainment goals also vary in their consideration of professional credentials. All 42 state attainment goals include the attainment of traditional degrees – including both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Six states only consider the attainment of degrees in their goal. Sixteen states additionally include certificates. The remaining 20 states track the attainment of any post-secondary credentials, including professional credentials like certifications and licenses and apprenticeship programs.

However, tracking the attainment of certificates and professional credentials can prove challenging for states.  Federal datasets that collect information on persons’ level of education typically only collect data on degree types, and do not collect data on certificates or professional credentials.  The next blogpost in this series will further explore available sources providing data on the attainment of professional credentials.

Measuring Attainment: Stories from Three States

Alabama, Iowa, and Washington all track the attainment of any post-secondary credential towards their higher education attainment goals. However, how these states track post-secondary credentials, and which post-secondary credentials each state tracks, varies.

Washington Student Achievement Council Educational Attainment Dashboard. Explore this dashboard at

The Washington Student Achievement Council set a 10-year goal in 2013 for 70% of Washington adults aged 25-44 to have a postsecondary credential by 2023.  Washington’s plan to increase educational attainment in the state specifically calls on increased attainment of “postsecondary certificate[s], apprenticeship[s], or degree[s].”[2]Washington Student Achievement Council Educational Attainment Dashboard

Washington tracks attainment of degrees using 1-year American Community Survey estimates[3], and estimates the attainment of high-value certificates using data annually produced by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce (CEW) on behalf of the Lumina Stronger Nation Report.[4] The CEW derives state level estimates for certificate attainment from U.S. Census and IPEDS data.

Iowa Laborshed Survey Analysis – Educational Attainment Dashboard. Explore this dashboard at

In 2016, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad set a goal for 70% of Iowa’s workforce to have “education or training beyond high school…including postsecondary degrees, certificates, and other high-quality credentials” by 2025.[5]  Future Ready Iowa and Iowa Workforce Development track the attainment of postsecondary credentials using the state’s Laborshed Survey.[6]  In addition to degree attainment, Iowa counts the attainment of “some education beyond high school, no degree obtained,” “vocational training,” and “trade certification” towards its attainment goal.

Alabama Works! Success Plus Educational Attainment Dashboard. Explore more at

Alabama Works! set a goal for 60% of the state’s working age population to hold “some type of certificate, credential or degree of value” by 2025 in response to an executive order from Governor Kay Ivey in 2017.  Alabama Works tracks the attainment of postsecondary credentials using data from the Current Population Survey.  In addition to degree attainment, the Current Population Survey additionally tracks the attainment of certifications and licenses, of which Alabama specifically tracks the attainment of certifications and licenses that are required for an individual’s job.

Read more about the data sources mentioned in this article in our February 2020 blog post on certifications and licenses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Population Survey collects information on the prevalence of certifications and licenses in the United States, published annually. Using this data, the Labor Market Information (LMI) Institute produced state-level estimates on the prevalence of certifications and licenses, including tables comparing certification and licensure by educational attainment across occupations, age, race and ethnicity, and gender.

[1] All data on state attainment goals provided by the Lumina Foundation and aggregated by HCM Strategists, unless otherwise noted.