The Ohio Gadfly Daily and Work Shift report on Peter Riley Bahr’s research on stackable credentials

May 18, 2023

A new study by Bahr and colleagues finds that stacking credentials can create lasting economic benefit for many low-income students.


Stackable credentials are a sequence of postsecondary credentials that are earned over time, build on each other, and offer different levels and types of training. Pathways typically encourage individuals to start their education with certificates—short-term credentials that take anywhere from a few weeks to two years to complete—that prepare them for various middle-skill jobs.

The Ohio Gadfly Daily reports that, until now, there has been little hard evidence on whether credentials succeed in improving the educational and economic outcomes of underserved populations. However, a new study by Peter Riley Bahr and colleagues addresses this gap by examining stackable credential efforts in Ohio and Colorado to determine their impact on low-income individuals. 

The study, “Stackable Credential Pipelines and Equity for Low-Income Individuals: Evidence from Colorado and Ohio,” is published by RAND Corporation.

Findings from Bahr’s study include:

  • Low-income certificate-earners stacked credentials at higher rates than middle- and high-income certificate earners.  
  • It appears that vertical stacking—stacking which results in higher-level credentials, including degrees—is associated with sizeable earnings gains compared to completing just one certificate. 
  • There is promising evidence that credential stacking could improve outcomes for low-income students. 

The site Work Shift reports that “4 in 10 low-income learners who earned certificates went on to add other credentials—and that they generally saw that pay off in more earnings.”

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Associate Professor, Marsal Family School of Education