Author ORCID Identifier


Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Elsie Harper-Anderson

Second Advisor

Dr. I-Shian Suen

Third Advisor

Dr. Myung Hun Jin

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Victor Chen


The significance of credentials has heightened considerably in recent decades with numerous federal and state policy initiatives aimed at increasing credential attainment. Various public workforce programs support these efforts, including the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which provided training to job-seekers from 1998 through 2015. Scholars point to human capital theory to explain how education investments yield economic gains. Screening, signaling, and credentialist theories provide a framework for examining the ways that credentials are used in labor markets. The literature on rural labor markets suggests that conditions are very different from their urban counterparts, with significant challenges existing in terms of unemployment, educational attainment, and access to supportive services. As such, this study sought to uncover whether differences exist in the influence of credentials on employment and earnings for rural and urban job-seekers.

This mixed-methods study used WIA administrative data for Virginia residents to examine the role of credential attainment in influencing the likelihood of employment and the amount of earnings, with a comparison between outcomes for rural and urban participants. Quantitative data was analyzed using binary logistic regression and ordinary least squares regression. Furthermore, qualitative data was collected through interviews with both rural and urban employers to identify any differences in their preferences for credentialed job-seekers.

Findings indicated that credentials were influential in predicting employment and earnings, with gains observed for both rural and urban job-seekers. The level of such gains varied, however, based on rurality, as well as the type of credential earned. The results also suggest that credential supply influences employer demand for credentials, and both are subject to change based on economic conditions.


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