With so much focus on whether college is worth it, relatively little attention has been paid to the value of certificate programs – vocational courses of study beyond high school that do not lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Over the last few years, these certificates have been proliferating, in fields ranging from health care and computer technology to cosmetology, interior design and paralegaling.
For some people, they can be viable alternatives to a full-blown college degree, lifting earnings well above what the average high school graduate earns. The median earnings of people who hold certificates are 20 percent higher than the median earnings of workers who go no further than a high school diploma. If certificate holders work in the field in which they earn the certificate, their median income is just 4 percent less than the median income of associate degree holders.
“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, in an interview. Mr. Carnevale likened certificates to apprenticeships in Germany.
Certificates may particularly benefit those who struggle with academics. The report, which analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, overseen by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, administered by the Census Bureau, found that those who gained certificates earned about the same median income as those who attended some college. Yet the median score of certificate holders on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, a standardized test, is several points lower than those who complete some college. (Read more.)