Since the 1980s, the number of education and training certificates awarded in the U.S. each year has skyrocketed more than 800 percent, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And with good reason: certificate programs can provide a cost-effective and time-efficient way to enhance skills, and many are correlated with significant increases in pay.

But this certificate boom has also fueled confusion among students, workers, job seekers and employers over the relative values and differences between thousands of certificates in the market. Job seekers often can’t tell which certificates will actually result in effective learning of marketable skills, or how to differentiate among certificate programs with varying levels of rigor. Employers aren’t sure that employees or job candidates really know what a piece of paper claims they do. This is where accreditation steps in — to assess, identify and strengthen certificate programs, as well as to demonstrate that quality to the workforce.

"Third-party accreditation is a key component of a quality certificate program."

What can accreditation do?

This standard defines the characteristics of a high-quality certificate program — whether the program addresses engineers, physicians, technicians or chefs. It also requires that a program meets predefined industry requirements for content, follows predetermined processes, includes constant feedback for quality improvement and clearly delineates outcomes. And it represents the collaborative expertise of the entire certificate program spectrum, including colleges and universities, community colleges and trade schools, government agencies, nonprofits and for-profits.

In 2007, a number of governmental agencies and consumers expressed concern to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that there wasn’t a nationwide benchmark of requirements of documentation, regulation, oversight or monitoring consistently applied to entities that offer education-based certificates. In response to this demand, in 2009, a globally recognized American National Standard for quality, ANSI/ASTM E2659, Standard Practice for Certificate Programs, was created.

Who cares about accreditation?

Quick answer: everybody should. Third-party accreditation is a key component of a quality certificate program, and it’s a win-win for students and job seekers, employers, industry, certificate issuers, policy makers and the entire U.S. workforce. Without accreditation, quality certificates would be lost in a confusing sea of uncertainty.