Certificates pay off, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW). People with certificates earn, on average, 20 percent more than workers with only high school diplomas. They also can out-earn workers with two-year and four-year degrees.
Earnings tie back to choosing the right field of study and working in that field. A certificate holder working in computer/information services can earn 70 percent or more than people with just an associate degree, according to the report.
The payoff is contributing to the growing popularity of certificates, which are now the fastest-growing form of postsecondary credential in the United States. In 1980, certificates only constituted 6 percent of postsecondary awards. Now, they make up 22 percent.
Other factors contributing to that growth include affordability of programs and the fact that they usually take less than a year to complete.
On community college campuses, 40 percent of awards annually are certificates, but “the rewards to students and the nation aren’t often well-known,” said Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.
Credentials are not usually counted in government surveys, but if they were, the country’s international ranking would move from 15th to 10th place, said the authors of the report.
“We’re happy to see this information come to light,” Mullin said.
Certificates aren’t for everyone, though, cautioned Anthony Carnevale, research professor, CEW director and lead author on the report.
“Certificates are the cutting edge for Hispanic educational and income gains, they provide big payoffs for men, but not for women, especially African-American women,” Carnevale said.
Along gender lines, male certificate holders earn 27 percent more than high school-educated men, but women with certificates only earn, on average, 16 percent more than high school-educated women. This could be due in part to the fields entered by men and women. While men often earn certificates in a range of areas such as construction, auto mechanics, electronics or heating and air conditioning, women tend to choose one of three lower-paying fields: health care, cosmetology or business and office management.
But certificates can be the first step to a college degree. The study found that 20 percent of certificate holders eventually earn a two-year degree, and 13 percent will earn a four-year degree.