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The Power of Certificates as Credentials

Posted on 07/09/2012


A recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees (www), proposes that "In an American economy where the advancement of technology and globalization means that a high school diploma alone is no longer able to provide family-sustaining earning to many, certificates represent one piece of a multi-pronged solution on the road to a workforce with 60 percent postsecondary attainment," This column reviews the major findings in the report.

Although postsecondary certificates vary widely in the benefits they provide, the report finds that since they tend to encourage further education and college completion, they have become a cost-effective means of enhancing postsecondary educational attainment as well as gainful employment. Even if only certificates with "clear and demonstrable economic value"—certificates with returns at least 20 percent above the earnings of the average high school graduate—were counted toward postsecondary attainment, the United States would "move from 15th to 10th in postsecondary completions" among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for 25- to 34-year-olds. (See executive summary (pdf).)

There are wide variations in the economic returns of certificates. While those with college degrees earn, on average, more than those whose highest attainment is a certificate, many certificate holders do earn more than those with bachelor's degrees. Among male certificate holders, 39 percent earn more than the median male with an associate degree and 24 percent earn more than the median male with a bachelor's degree. Thirty-four percent of female certificate holders earn more than women with associate degrees and 24 percent of women with bachelor's degrees.

Other findings worth noting: (1) certificates lead to higher salaries for men than for women; (2) a higher percentage of African-Americans hold certificates than any other racial or ethnic group, yet African-Americans get the smallest earning premium from certificates; and (3) states vary significantly in certificate production.

From the OVAE Connection (www), newsletter of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U. S. Department of Education, July 5, 2012.

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