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Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees

Note: The executive summary has been updated since the original release of Certificates. You may find a list of errors that have been corrected here.

Certificates have swelled to become the second most common postsecondary award in the U.S.: Over 1 million are awarded each year. In the context of concerns about rising college costs and student loan debt, certificates, which are cheaper and take less time to complete than college degrees, have become of increasing interest to researchers, institutions, and other stakeholders in higher education.

In this report, we analyze earnings by field of study, sex, race/ethnicity, and program length. One of the most important factors that affects earnings is whether certificate holders work in the same occupational field they studied in.

We also take a close look at the demographic characteristics of certificate holders: sex, race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, academic preparation/skill, family income, and parents’ education.

Last, we analyze the institutions that most commonly award certificates – such as community colleges and for-profit institutions – and the states where certificates are most prevalent and provide the highest earnings returns.

  • %

    Certificates are the fastest growing postsecondary credential, and second only to BAs in number earned each year.

  • %

    Certificates are relatively cheap and can be completed quickly.

  • %

    Public two-year colleges award 52 percent of certificates.

Certificates Presentation

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  • Synopsis
  • Key Findings
  • PPP
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Fun Fact

Our research on jobs focuses on the historic and future labor market supply and labor market demand for education.

Learn More