A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce suggests that more Americans are getting postsecondary certificates than ever before. What’s more, some of those folks are out-earning people with associates and even bachelor’s degrees.
But Anthony Carnevale, the Center’s director and the study’s lead author, says that doesn’t mean you should drop out of college and just get a certificate instead.
“I think what this says is that there are some new rungs in the education ladder and truthfully we needed them,” he says.
The rise in the number of people getting certificates has been meteoric: an 800 percent increase over the last 30 years, according to the study.
The Center’s director, Anthony Carnevale, attributes that surge to changing economics. Thirty years ago, it was pretty easy to find a good job in a largely blue-collar economy. But since the late 1970’s, technology has played an increasingly central role in all jobs, which means positions that used to require very little education now need some technical training at the very least.
Certificates tend to be pretty inexpensive and don’t require a big investment in time or a great deal of education before hand. They can, however, have a pretty significant payoff. On average, certificate holders earn 20 percent more than those who enter the workforce with just a high-school degree.
The study also found that men with certificates make more money than 40 percent of men with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees. Women with certificates tend to bring home a bigger paycheck than 34 percent of women with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees. Overall, the study showed that the benefits of certificates were greater for men than for women.But as with any form of higher education, what you study can be just as important as the degree, or in this case certificate, that you end up with. For example, Carnevale says someone who has a certificate in engineering will make more than most people with associate’s degrees, and one-third of people with bachelor’s degrees. In general, the science, technology and math focused certificates tend to have the best return on investment.
On the other hand, one of the most popular certificate programs for women – cosmetology – comes with “dismal” earnings, often making less than the average person with only a high-school degree. In fact, their earnings are so dismal that Carnevale wonders if women interested in pursuing cosmetology shouldn’t be given a formal warning about how bad their earnings potential will be.
Carnevale says certificates can be great stepping-stones for people, or as he likes to call it, “bite-sized education that can lead into decent jobs and further education.”
Think about that engineering certificate again. If that person goes on to get an associate’s degree in engineering, they can easily double their income. A bachelor’s in the same field can double that income yet again.
Carnevale says states like Ohio are ideal for certificate programs. Ohio was once a stronghold of manufacturing, but even before the economic recession and the tidal wave of job losses that came with it, the Buckeye State was left with a largely blue-collar workforce often desperate for jobs.
The average certificate costs $5,000-$6,000 at a community college, double that at a private institution.
But according to the report, someone armed with a certificate has a significantly better chance of landing a job or moving on to higher education than someone looking for work with no post-secondary training at all. Carnevale says certificates are America’s answer to apprenticeship programs – training a badly needed work force without investing a ton of time and money.
You can read the entire report here.