Cover: Stacking Educational Credentials in Ohio

Stacking Educational Credentials in Ohio

Pathways Through Postsecondary Education in Health Care, Manufacturing and Engineering Technology, and Information Technology

Published May 11, 2020

by Lindsay Daugherty, Jenna W. Kramer, Drew M. Anderson, Robert Bozick

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Research Questions

  1. Who is stacking credentials in Ohio?
  2. What types of credentials are being stacked?
  3. How are students progressing through stackable credential programs?

Stackable credential programs—that is, programs that facilitate students' ability to earn multiple postsecondary certificates or degrees—have been a priority for Ohio, which has a long history of legislation, state and regional initiatives, and institution-led efforts to build more-effective pathways to address the needs of employers and students. To assess progress and inform ongoing efforts to scale stackable credentials, the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the RAND Corporation established a research partnership. In this report, RAND researchers examine students who earned postsecondary certificates in health care, manufacturing and engineering technology (MET), or information technology (IT) fields at Ohio institutions between the 2004–2005 and 2012–2013 academic years and went on to earn (or stack) additional educational credentials. The authors descriptively examine the completion of credentials over time, the types of students who are earning certificates and going on to stack credentials, the subfields and levels of credentials earned, the types of institutions students earned credentials from, and the credit accumulation and terms of enrollment for students earning different types of credentials.

Key Findings

  • Between the 2004–2005 and 2012–2013 academic years, the number of certificate-earners doubled in health care and MET fields, but the researchers did not observe similar increases in certificates earned in IT.
  • Rates of stacking were highest among students who first earned an IT certificate in the 2012–2013 academic year (59 percent), followed by MET (43 percent) and health care (33 percent). Rates of stacking in health care increased substantially over time, but the researchers did not see increases in MET or IT rates.
  • Despite being represented at higher percentages among certificate-earners relative to degree-earners, black students and adult learners (aged 25 or older) were less likely to stack additional credentials relative to white students and younger students.
  • Among students who stacked one or more additional credentials within four years of completing a certificate, 71 percent had stacked to the associate's degree level and 9 percent had stacked to the bachelor's degree level.
  • More than one in four certificate-earners went on to stack credentials outside of the field in which they earned their initial certificates, and rates of cross-field stacking were particularly high for IT certificate-earners.
  • Students who earned an initial certificate at a community college or university were more likely to earn additional credentials than were students who earned their first certificate at an Ohio Technical Center.
  • Students who stacked both a certificate and an associate's degree had accumulated an average of 17 additional credit hours and had enrolled for a little more than one additional term, on average, than students who earned an associate's degree only.


  • Further investigate what is driving differences in rates of stacking for certain groups (e.g., black students, students who earn a certificate at an Ohio Technical Center), and consider ways to address possible disparities in access and support for these students.
  • Examine labor market data to determine which types of programs and combinations of credentials are providing value to employers and individuals.
  • Conduct analysis with more-recent data to examine patterns in cross-institution stacking after the rollout of statewide articulation agreements, and continue to identify ways to encourage cross-institution stacking of credentials.
  • Determine what is driving the accumulation of additional credit hours and terms of enrollment for students who stack credentials relative to students who earn an associate's degree without stacking, and identify ways to support the efficient movement of students through multiple credentials.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the ECMC Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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