Non-degree credentials can help adults achieve better job satisfaction and economic mobility.

Non-degree credentials have a pivotal role in our economy

Non-degree credentials have their place in the economy--here's how they help workers

Adults who do not hold college degrees, but who have earned non-degree credentials, report greater income and happiness with their educational paths compared to adults without credentials, according to a new report.

The report comes from the Strada Education Network and Lumina Foundation. Certified Value: When do Adults without Degrees Benefit from Earning Certificates and Certifications? intends to fill the still-empty space around what is known about the value and impact non-degree credentials, such as certificates or certifications, have for those who earn them.

Specifically, adults without a degree who hold a certificate or certification:

  • Have higher full-time employment rates compared to peers without non-degree credentials (85 percent vs. 78 percent)
  • Have self-reported median annual incomes of $45,000 compared to $30,000 for those without non-degree credentials
  • View their education paths are more valuable and are more likely to recommend them to others than are those without non-degree credentials

Related: Why are alternative digital credentials necessary?

As automation and technological advances change the job market, policymakers and employers recognize the potential of non-degree certificates and professional certifications to help meet demands for new skills. Along the same lines, bootcamps and tech academies have found fast popularity, and even traditional institutions–most notably, community colleges–have increased non-degree offerings.

“This new report shows that degreed higher education isn’t the only viable path into a good career,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Oftentimes short-term certificates and industry-based certifications get the job done quicker, better and cheaper.”

The report notes a wage discrepancy between men and women who hold certifications but not degrees.

“While the data point to the broad economic benefits of non-degree credentials, wage premiums vary significantly based on occupation and gender, raising equity as an important issue for further research,” according to the report. “For some occupations, the income premium for a certificate or certification is as high as $25,000 per year, while for other occupations there is little to no advantage in having earned a non-degree credential. The income premium enjoyed by non-degree adults who hold certificates or certifications is considerably larger for men than it is for women, and this holds across all occupations.”

Related: States show progress in measuring non-degree credentials

The report is the first in a series, supported by the Strada and Lumina partnership, that will explore the educational and workforce experiences of adults without degrees. About 99 million American adults do not have a college degrees, and 44 million of them are not earning enough to support their families. The partnership and subsequent reports will help the higher-ed community better understand adults’ educational and work experiences–and most importantly, how to provide greater economic mobility for more of them and their families.

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Laura Ascione

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