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Research Brief: Measuring the Effects of Outcomes-Based Funding on Certificate Production: Challenges, Inconsistencies and Recommendations for Future Research

Outcomes-based funding (OBF) has become an increasingly common tool for states seeking to improve student outcomes, and the inclusion of certificates in OBF policies has been subject to considerable scrutiny.

But studying the effects of OBF on certificates is exceptionally challenging. Certificates vary greatly in length, type, and labor market value. Additionally, states vary in how they define and reward certificate completions, and OBF policies change frequently. Finally, available databases do not adequately capture these variations. These factors make it difficult to ascertain whether and how OBF policies have affected certificate attainment and student economic and social mobility.

Our new research brief examines these challenges and opportunities by:

  1. Summarizing what is known about variation in the type, length, and value of certificates;
  2. Documenting variation in how state OBF formulas define and reward certificates;
  3. Illustrating the limitations of available datasets to capture this variation; and
  4. Providing a set of recommendations for how the field can better examine the intended and unintended effects of including certificates in OBF policies.

Outcomes-based funding is a high-stakes, complex policy. This brief provides a detailed overview of certificates in the current OBF policy landscape–and a roadmap for how to better capture this complexity in research.