A New Approach to Professional Licensing
Professional licensure is an important tool for ensuring quality and maintaining high standards for the good of consumers and practitioners alike. It can also be a major barrier to opportunity.
Many professionals, such as healthcare workers and teachers, must be licensed to work in their field. This often means hours of coursework, examinations, and review by a licensing board. It also often varies from state to state—meaning a nurse who moves states because his spouse is redeployed or a teacher living in a border town seeking a new opportunity across state lines may be essentially starting from scratch.
Licensure requirements also disproportionately burden those who face the highest hurdles for entering the workforce—especially people from low-income households, people with criminal records, and military personnel and their spouses. Getting a license can be expensive and often means working fewer hours (and sacrificing wages) to fulfill training requirements. And the license is usually only valid in the state that granted it, precluding job opportunities beyond state borders.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some states crafted temporary licensing policies to fill healthcare and education staff vacancies. Though these policies helped fill immediate needs, these types of short-term, crisis-driven solutions aren't built to last. Policymakers must find permanent solutions that maintain skill and safety standards while removing barriers to the workforce.
Accessible, Equitable Policies
Obtaining a professional license can be challenging for anyone, but it is especially difficult for people from certain populations, such as low-income households or military families that move often. States can implement fee waivers or reduced fee programs for people who meet certain criteria. They can also support education programs that include a path to licensure as part of the curriculum.
WGU's policy experts explain current licensure issues and provide recommendations in "Licensure Reform: Replacing the Maze with Pathways."