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Social Policy Institute to study impact of short-term credentials on advancing equity and meeting local labor market demands

Contact: Jason Jabbari, Associate Director of Community Partnerships, Social Policy Institute

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (August 28, 2023) – The Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis has received a two-year, $475,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation. These funds will support a research project aiming to understand the impact of short-term credentials on various aspects of individuals’ lives, such as increased earnings and employment opportunities, while also exploring the transferability of non-degree credentials across employers and geographic contexts. In doing so, this project will provide novel insights for individuals, education institutions, and communities seeking to meet local labor market demands. 

The SPI anticipates that findings from this project will serve as a vital step toward demonstrating the transformative potential of  short-term credentials in improving social mobility and advancing racial equity for adults working in various sectors, including manufacturing, technology, education, and healthcare.

“While there is a substantial amount of research out there on two- and four-year degree programs, we know very little about the return on investment for short-term credential programs,” said Jason Jabbari, Assistant Professor at the Brown School. “We are grateful for the Lumina Foundation, which has provided us with the resources and support to understand if and how these programs can serve as vehicles for racial equity and social mobility in a rapidly changing labor market.”

Through big data and advanced machine-learning techniques, the research team will merge multiple years of individual-level data from Equifax and the National Student Clearinghouse across eight metropolitan regions to rigorously examine the effects of short-term credentials on social mobility and racial equity, with a particular focus on Black, Hispanic and Latino workers. By analyzing the data and experiences of participants, the research team will uncover valuable insights that will contribute to the development of evidence-based policies and programs aimed at closing the racial wealth gap and fostering economic opportunities for underrepresented communities.

“Lumina is thrilled to support this vital research project to understand the return on investment of short-term credentials,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of strategic impact. “With nearly 5,500 certification programs in today’s educational marketplace — not counting licensures, apprenticeships, and badges — it’s important that we examine the impact of these types of credentials on social mobility and racial equity on a variety of adult learners, especially Black, Hispanic, and Latino workers.   

The project will be led by Jabbari in collaboration with a distinguished team of researchers, including Dr. Stephen Roll, Dr. Yung Chun, and Dr. Fanice Thomas, and staff, including Kourtney Gilbert and Katie Kristensen.


The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis is a university-level initiative seeking to reduce inequality through research focused on housing, education, health and financial security.  The research conducted at the Institute is designed to be transdisciplinary, solutions-oriented, and participatory-based, with the ultimate goal of informing policy.

The Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision higher learning that is easy to navigate, addresses racial injustice, and meets the nation’s talent needs through a broad range of credentials. We are working toward a system that prepares people for informed citizenship and success in a global economy.