Report Shows Certificate Programs Are Becoming More Popular

Earning certificate

June 6, 2012

A new report has found that postsecondary certificates are the fastest-growing form of credential in the country.

The report, "Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees," comes from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. It found that in 2010, certificates made up 22 percent of awarded credentials. In 1980, by contrast, that figure was just 6 percent.

Certificates are popular because they can be completed in less than a year, are affordable, and often lead to better earnings. According to the report, the median earnings of people who hold certificates are 20 percent higher than the median earnings of workers who have just a high school diploma. Moreover, certificate holders who choose to work in the field in which they earn their certificate can expect incomes of just 4 percent less than the median incomes of those with associate degrees.

"We are developing a very American version of the European system" for vocational training, said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce and the lead author of the report, who was interviewed by The New York Times.

Carnevale added that certificates are particularly appealing to students who struggle academically. He noted that the programs allow such students to gain "sufficient skills to give them jobs above what they would normally get based on their educational achievement."

As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the study found that the most common occupations of certificate holders are business/office work, transportation, healthcare, and metal working. The states that produce the most certificates on a per-capita basis are Louisiana, Georgia, Arizona, and Florida. States producing the fewest are New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Vermont, and Hawaii.

Inside Higher Ed pointed out that the most surprising finding of the study is that one-third of certificate holders also have an associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree. The large percentage suggests that workers are earning certificates to update or learn new skills in a difficult job market.

Interestingly, the report also found that men tend to fare better by earning certificates than women do: Men with certificates earn a median wage premium that is 27 percent higher than those who just hold high school diplomas. With women, however, the median wage premium for those with certificates is just 16 percent higher. The disparity may be because women tend to pursue certificates in low paying professions.

"The advice to women is you better get past a certificate," said Carnevale, who was quoted by the Times.

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman


"Certificates Are Misunderstood Credentials That Pay Off—Mostly for Men,", June 6, 2012, Paul Fain

"Certificates Rise to 22% of Postsecondary Credentials Awarded, Report Says,", June 6, 2012, Jennifer Gonzalez

"How Certificates Can Lift Income,", June 6, 2012, Motoko Rich

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