The number of students earning degrees and certificates from community colleges is 25 percent higher than it was a little more than a decade ago, and the number of students earning awards from for-profit vocational schools rose more than 50 percent, according to a new report.
The total number of annual associate’s and vocational degrees awarded has reached almost 1.5 million, says the National Center for Education Statistics report, which tracks growth from 1997 to 2007.
Most of the overall increase over the study period has been driven by women—particularly women who are members of minority groups—seeking accreditation in the health-care industry. “Increasingly, these credentials have become a central feature of our nation’s job training and skill development after high school,” Tom Weko, the associate commissioner for the center’s postsecondary division, said in a press release. “For women, and especially women of color, these credentials are an important point of entry into the workforce.”
The number of women earning awards beneath bachelor’s level increased by 31 percent over the study period, compared with 24 percent for men. Among African-Americans, women earned 68 percent of the degrees and certificates, which was the largest such gender gap among population groups.
Nearly a third of all certificates and associate’s degrees awarded in 2007 were in health care, which was a 68 percent increase over that sector’s share in 1997, according to the NCES study.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that six of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations require postsecondary education below the bachelor’s level, with five of those occupations in medical fields.
The report also documents dramatic increases in postsecondary awards for Hispanic students, in particular. In 2007, Hispanic students earned 74 percent more overall awards and 88 percent more associate’s degrees than they did in 1997, the study found. More than half of postsecondary awards earned by Hispanic students in 2007, in fact, were below the bachelor’s level.
Both black and Hispanic students were more likely to opt for programs beneath the associate’s level. Together, they earned 35 percent of the short-term certificates completed in 2007, comparedwith just 23 percent of the associate’s degrees.
A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2009 edition of Education Week as Study Finds More Students Earning Associate’s, Vocational Degrees