Some certificates better than a college degree

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

The classical depiction of “getting an education” meant finishing high school, going to college, and picking up, at the very least, a bachelor’s degree.

But a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Study, released June 6, 2012, has revealed a dramatic shift. The key finding: some postsecondary certificates will pay off more than four-year college degrees.

According to the study, 22% of 2011-2012 postsecondary credentials were awarded as certificates, up from just 6% in 1980. The study cites affordability, shortened time of completion, and high-yielding returns, as the three main factors for the growth of this credential.

Furthermore, the study finds, “male certificate holders earn more than 40 percent of men with Associate's degrees and 24 percent of men with Bachelor's degrees,” and “female certificate holders earn more than 34 percent of the women with Associate's degrees and 24 percent of women with Bachelor's degrees.”

The City Wire recently asked three regional education leaders — Bruce Sikes, chief academic officer at Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus; Ray Wallace, provost and senior vice chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS); and Charlie Alison with the University of Arkansas (UA) Office of University Relations—to weigh in on these findings.

Despite the study finding that certificates are the “fastest growing form of postsecondary credentials in the U.S.,” UAFS and the UA are not showing the same level of growth.

“Our most marked increases will likely continue to be in the Bachelor’s degree category for future years’ numbers, since residents of this region want Bachelor’s degrees and are seeing the importance of furthering their educations,” Wallace said. “UAFS offers Bachelor’s degrees, certificates and certificates of proficiency, and we consider each of these educational attainments important to the region and to the students who achieve these milestones.”

Wallace added that “last year’s annual count showed that we had a 27% increase in the numbers of bachelor’s degrees awarded.”

Certificates were even less sought after in Fayetteville, according to Alison, who said the UA only has “two certificate programs offered at the post-secondary level, and both of them are targeted to the poultry industry.”

Alison continued: “One is a certificate of proficiency for food-safety manager and the other is a certificate of proficiency in hazard analysis and critical control point coordinator. The rest of our certificate programs, a dozen if I recall correctly, are graduate-level programs. Most are for primary and secondary educators and especially administrators. So a student would have to have a Bachelor’s degree before pursuing those.”

Alison said 2012 numbers were unavailable, but “we only had 13 certificates handed out in 2011 and smaller numbers the two years before that.”

Wallace adds, “Many of our students do use a certificate or an associate degree as a stepping stone, providing them employment while they continue to a bachelor’s degree or beyond. Being able to do all of that here, while staying in the Fort Smith region, is a big plus for us and for them.”

While the study does state that certificates are not for everyone, it reveals that a certificate “in the right field” while the certificate holder is “working in that field” yields the best results.

“On average certificate holders who work in field earn 37 percent more than those who work out of field. The highest earners are those who are working in field and in high-demand occupations,” the study finds.

What is an example of “high-demand occupations”?

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The study states that men in computer/information services earn $72,498 annually — 72% more than men with associate’s degrees and 54% more than men with bachelor’s degrees. The percentages were similar for women in computer/information services, who earn $56,664 annually — 75% more than women with associate’s degrees and 64% more than women with bachelor’s degrees.

For Sikes, the findings reveal exactly how important certificates are now, and how important they will be moving forward.

“The Ozark Campus is steadfast in its belief that Technical Certificates are quick to market degrees leading directly to occupations — they help get people to work. If anything, this report indicates that industry has a respect for certificate training, there are jobs for people with a documented skill, and specialized certificate training is important in the continuum of education,” Sikes said.

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Comments

Education should be for all

I heartily agree that there are MANY other avenues to having a successful career. So much praise and attention is given to high school students preparing for a college admission, and students who are planning to study diesel engine repair or welding are somehow seen as second-class citizens. There are plenty of paths to success - and they don't all involve a 4-year college. Let's applaud all of our students who are planning for their futures, no matter their paths.