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Stats Watch

It’s Certifiable: U.S. Needs Certificate Programs

University Business, July/August 2012

When President Obama set the goal of increasing the percentage of the population that has some postsecondary education, the assumed focus was on two- and four-year degrees. A new report, “Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees,” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce makes the argument that certificates should not be overlooked.

“Even if only certificates with demonstrated value were included among America’s postsecondary credentials, the United States would move from 15th to 10th in postsecondary completions among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for those 25  to 34 years old,” the report states.

Community colleges and private, for-profit institutions award the majority of certificates. The authors point out this is an issue since the cost for students to attend a private for-profit institution is considerably higher than attending a public institution.

“We were surprised to find that, so far as certificates are concerned, the institutional divide is really a male/female divide,” says Andrew Hanson, co-author. “That is, for-profits tend to be more focused on certificate programs such as healthcare and cosmetology, which have traditionally been fields where women are highly concentrated.” Public institutions, mostly community colleges, have a greater focus on certificate programs that prepare students for blue-collar work, professions that tend to have a lot of men (although there are other programs with a greater gender mix).

There is a pay-off for certificate earners who are working in their field of study. Male certificate holders earn more than 40 percent of men with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees, while female certificate holders earn more than 34 percent of women with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees, the report shows.
As Hanson points out, findings are contrary to the traditional view that programs with less than a year of seat-time don’t have value in the labor market.

Community colleges are accustomed to responding to market need by adjusting existing or adding new programs, so these institutions may want to stay ahead of the demand for certificates. That involves coming to a better understanding of the fields providing their graduates with large benefits, Hanson says.

Campus leaders should probably be beefing up their career services offices, as well. “To the extent that institutions can assist students in finding employment in their field of study, it would be a boon to their graduates’ earnings,” Hanson says. Certificate holders who work in their chosen fields make, on average, 40 percent more than those who aren’t able to find work in their chosen fields.