College & Workforce Readiness

Popularity of Certificate Programs Grows

By Caralee J. Adams — June 06, 2012 2 min read
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The fastest growing postsecondary credential is not a bachelor’s or even an associate’s degree.

It’s a certificate.

The affordable alternative usually takes less than one or two years to complete and can boost a worker’s earning power by 20 percent over a high school diploma, according to a report released today.

The advantage differs by gender. Men with a certificate make 27 percent more than those with a high school diploma, while the wage boost is just 16 percent for women.

Researchers from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that certificates make up 22 percent of all college awards, up from 6 percent in 1980. About one in 10 American workers holds a certificate, according to the report, authored by Anthony Carnevale, Stephen Rose, and Andrew Hanson. One million certificates are awarded each year in the U.S.

Certificate programs take place in the classroom, mainly in public, two-year schools or private, for-profit vocation, technical, and trade schools. Students usually complete a course of study based on a specific field in a limited set of occupations. Researchers note these awards are not to be confused with industry-based certifications and licenses, which typically involve passing a test and completion of an apprenticeship or training program to demonstrate proficiency of a certain skill.

A certificate can be a gateway to more higher education. The report discovered that 34 percent of those with a certificate also hold a bachelor’s, associate’s, or graduate degree. Women are more likely to use a certificate as a stepping stone to more education than men, the report notes.

The economic benefit from earning a certificate varies according to the certificate’s field of study, if the certificate holder works in field, and the worker’s sex, race, and ethnicity.

For instance, in computer and information services, men working in field earn $72,498 per year, a salary higher than 72 percent of men with an associate’s degree and 54 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees. Women with certificates in this field and working in a related occupation earn $56,664 annually — greater than 75 percent of women with an associate’s degree and 64 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree.

The report suggests that the extent to which schools can promote in-field work experience through job placement programs can significantly affect their graduates’ success in becoming gainfully employed.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.