Sub-baccalaureate certificates and certifications bring significant economic advantages,
especially for adults who do not have a college degree.
Non-degree certificates convey substantial economic value, including higher employment rates and income, greater marketability and more personal satisfaction. Those are the key results from a just-released survey of about 50,000 working adults between the ages of 25-64. The survey focused on respondents who did not have a college degree and were not attending college.
The study was conducted by the Strada Educational Group and Gallup as part of their Education Consumer Survey, and the report, “Certified Value: When Do Adults Without Degrees Benefit From Earning Certificates and Certifications?” was published by Strada and the Lumina Foundation.
The results point to the multiple, positive economic impacts that sub-baccalaureate certificates and certifications have for adult workers, 5% of whom are estimated to hold such credentials as their highest level of educational attainment. A certificate is a credential awarded by a postsecondary institution for completion of occupationally oriented courses typically lasting a year or less; a certification is a credential awarded by industry or independent organizations based on examinations that verify the acquisition of skills.
Here are the highlights from the survey:
- Adults with a short-term certificate or industry-based certification were more likely to be employed (85%) than adults without such credentials (78%).
- Adults holding certificates reported their median annual income to be $45,000, compared to $30,000 for adults without any certificates.
- Among the non-degreed adults with a certificate or certification, two-thirds were inclined to recommend the educational path they had followed to others, compared to less than half of the non-degreed adults without such credentials.
- Among certificate/certification holders, 60% believed their educational experiences made them more marketable to potential employers, compared to 44% of those who had not earned certificates or certifications.
- The wage premium associated with certification varied substantially by gender and occupation. Men with a post-secondary certificate or industry certification indicated that they earned more than twice as much as women with such credentials among this non-degreed sample.
Certificate and certification holders reported much larger income premiums than their non-credentialed peers – typically $20,000 per year or more – when they were employed in traditional male-dominated fields such as security services, construction, mining, architecture and engineering. Community and social service employees and installation, maintenance and repair workers saw annual income premiums of $15,000. The smallest income advantages associated with holding a certificate were in health care ($5,000), office and administrative support ($4,000), and education, training and library careers ($2,000).
Bottom line: Certificates and certifications are fast, cheap and effective. According to Courtney Brown, Lumina Vice President of Strategic Impact, “these credentials can change lives, raise incomes and brighten futures of millions of Americans – aiding the nation’s quest to increase opportunity and talent development.”
Although the report included data only for adults who had no college degree and were not attending college, its results might catch the attention of four-year colleges and universities. And well they should. Embedding an occupationally meaningful credential within standard degree programs is on the upswing, illustrated by the University of Louisville’s recent partnership with IBM to offer an IBM Skills Academy to its undergraduates. It’s a smart strategy, designed to win the competition for enrollments and to combine practical skills training with the broad learning that a solid college education should ensure.
Traditional four-year institutions can either recognize the value of certificates and build them into courses of study, or they can ignore them and trail a trend that is rapidly gaining momentum. The obstacles to embedding certificates in undergraduate degrees are considerable. Deciding which certificates to add and selecting the instructors to staff the sequences will require careful consideration of institutional strengths and market needs. Recognizing and recording certificates on the undergraduate transcript is another challenge. And finally, but most essential, overcoming resistance by the faculty to what is seen by many as an undesirable intrusion into the curriculum will be perhaps the highest hurdle of all.