A report from the U.S. Census Bureau says that in the fall of 2012, more than 50 million U.S. adults, or one in four, had obtained a professional certification, license or educational certificate apart from a postsecondary degree awarded by colleges and universities. This is the Census Bureau’s first-ever report on this topic.
Among the adults included in the report, 12 million had both a professional certification or license and an educational certificate; 34 million had only a professional certification or license; and 7 million had only an educational certificate.
“Getting an academic degree is not the only way for people to develop skills that pay off in the labor market,” said Stephanie Ewert, a demographer with the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch and co-author of the report, Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials: 2012.
“In this report, we’ve been able to measure for the first time how many people take another route to a productive career: holding an alternative educational credential independent of traditional college degrees. It turns out that millions of people have taken this path,” added Ewert.
These alternative credentials include professional certifications, licenses and educational certificates. The fields of these professional certifications and licenses were wide-ranging and include business/finance management, nursing, education, cosmetology and culinary arts, among others.
The report shows that, in general, these alternative credentials provide a path to higher earnings. Among full-time workers, the median monthly earnings for someone with a professional certification or license only was $4,167, compared with $3,433 for one with an educational certificate only; $3,920 for those with both types of credentials; and $3,110 for people without any alternative credential.
“For people with at least a bachelor’s degree, earnings didn’t really differ between those with an alternative educational credential and those without,” said report co-author Robert Kominski, assistant chief for social characteristics at the Census Bureau. “But at lower levels of regular education, there is routinely an earnings premium for a professional certification or license, or an educational certificate.”
Professional certification or license holders earned more than those without an alternative credential at each level of education below a bachelor’s. Among people with some college but no degree or less education, educational certificate holders earned more than people without an alternative credential.
- Professional certifications and licenses were more common among people with an associate’s degree or higher, and they were particularly concentrated at the master’s and professional degree levels. In contrast, educational certificates were most prevalent at the associate’s degree level.
- There were 11.2 million adults with a high school diploma or less education who held a professional certification or license. If this alternative credential were incorporated into an expanded measure of education, these adults might be re-categorized into the “more than high school” category, representing a shift of almost 5 percent of the adult population.
- About three-quarters of professional certifications and licenses were required for the current or most recent job. More than 90 percent of these credential holders took training or courses and had to demonstrate on-the-job skills or pass a test or exam in order to earn them.
- Among people with an educational certificate, 82 percent reported that some type of educational institution awarded their credential.
- People working in technical occupations were the most likely to hold an alternative credential (71 percent).
- Around 30 percent of adults who worked during the previous four months held an alternative credential. In contrast, just 16 percent of the unemployed and 13 percent of those not in the labor force did so.
- Non-Hispanic whites were more likely than other race or ethnic groups to hold professional certifications, licenses and educational certificates, and Hispanics were least likely out of included groups.
- Among advanced degree holders, there were similar rates of professional certifications across racial and ethnic groups except for Asians, who had significantly lower rates than all other groups.
- Women had higher rates of alternative credentials than men at the bachelor’s degree and advanced degree levels. Among adults with a high school degree or less, more men than women held alternative credentials.
The data included in the report were collected from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, based on questionnaire items researched and developed by a federal interagency research team, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment. The data were collected between September and December 2012.