Eye on Education

Maybe You Should Consider a Postsecondary Certificate, But Not in Cosmetology

Skyline College PR & Marketing / flickr

Students who get certificates in cosmetology often make less than their peers who just have high school degrees or GED's, a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows.

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.




  • Brenda

    I would like to comment regarding the “dismal” earning of a Cosmetologist. This is completely inaccurate. The challenge in the Cosmetology Industry is since this is primarily a “cash business” with nearly 40% of their income being in “tips”, rarely does a Cosmetologist report their true earnings. Somehow whether this be the Federal Government or States responsibility- a system must be created for Salon Professionals which requires true earning reports. Look at the car your hairstylist drives and the home they live in. The BLS indicates on average the earnings are $10 PH, in reality earnings are more like 65-80K per year.

    • IdaZL

      Hi Brenda,

      I’m wondering where the $65-80,000 figure you cite is from, is that your personal experience as a cosmetologist or can you lead me to a study that says that? As you say, the BLS says average earnings for cosmetologists are around $10 an hour, and it doesn’t say anything about tips, so certainly there is potential for extra earnings there. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Personal-Care-and-Service/Barbers-hairdressers-and-cosmetologists.htm



      • Brenda

        Close friends and family members that are in the beauty industry. I believe the key to resolving the inaccurate disclosure of income is to modify the law in regards to Independent Contractors. It is true, some stylists will earn an hourly wage which would equate to approximately $10.00 per hour. If you study Great Clips chains for example, they have a requirement regarding timing of each haircut which is approximately 15 minutes per haircut at 3-4 per hour. Estimated tip on each haircut is $4.00 – even with this, average earnings would be 22.00-26.00 per hour with only 3-4 cuts per hour, again the tip which exceeds the hourly wage is not considered when reporting these earnings.

  • Miltonpierce

    As one of the Best Jobs of 2012, this profession should see significant growth over the next decade


    The Rundown:

    Keeping up with the latest beauty trends is important to many of us, and it’s a professional necessity for a hairdresser. Also known as cosmetologists, these trained professionals offer a wide range of beauty services, but are particularly capable at shampooing, cutting, styling, and coloring hair. Some are also trained and licensed to give manicures, pedicures, skin treatments, and to apply makeup. Those in the profession often advise and collaborate with their clients on the best hair care and skin practices. As such, it’s important for a hairdresser to have good interpersonal skills, in addition to an adeptness for and familiarity with the latest style trends. “There’s so much more to what we do than cutting hair,” says Scott J. Buchanan, president of Scott J. Salons in New York City and the vice chairman of the Professional Beauty Association. “We also get to change people’s lives and make them feel good about themselves.” Barbers are a type of cosmetologist, trained specifically to style the hair of male clientele. And general hairdressers and/or cosmetologists are trained to style the heads of both male and female customers.

    [See The Best Jobs of 2012.]

    The Outlook:

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15.7 percent employment growth for hairdressers between 2010 and 2020. In that time period, nearly 98,400 cosmetologist positions will need to be filled.


    According to the Department of Labor, hairdressers made an average salary of $22,760 in 2010—including tips. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $41,540, while the lowest-paid made approximately $16,350. The most experienced tend to receive the highest pay, and building a loyal client base is crucial to a stylist’s earning potential. The highest-paid in the profession work in the metropolitan areas of Santa Fe, N.M., Sherman, Texas, and Boulder, Colo.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LX7ZFSXGTTVK5QNMBUVLT5YFL4 Linda

    I don’t believe this author is comparing apples to apples. In what profession is it a choice to have a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree versus a certificate?
    I would expect certificate holders to make more money than high school graduates. Certificate holders have undergone continuing education, and therefore can earn more because of that training.
    Where did the author get her information on cosmetology earnings? Yes, there are some who choose to work the minimum and make the minimum. But there are others who make VERY good incomes. It depends a lot on the individual and where they choose to go to work.

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