Some associate degree and certificate programs provide a less expensive and faster on-ramp to the middle class than a bachelor's degree, according to the findings in a new report from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).
According to the report, "The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees: What Students Need to Know Before They Go to College," the field of study a student selects greatly influences future earnings, as many of these programs are linked with specific occupations.
“Field of study matters most when it comes to certificates and associate degrees,” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report and CEW director. “A worker with an associate’s degree can earn more than a worker with a bachelor’s degree, and shorter-term credentials like certificates and certifications can out-earn associate’s degrees.”
The combined number of certificates and associate degrees awarded by colleges is similar to the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded—around 2 million per year, the study found. Moreover, associate degree holders who studied engineering have median earnings between $50,001 and $60,000 per year, compared to workers with a bachelor’s degree in education, who have median earnings between $30,001 and $40,000 per year. Workers with certificates in construction trades and other blue-collar fields have median earnings that are as high as those of bachelor’s degree recipients in liberal arts and humanities (between $40,001 and $50,000).
Community College of Philadelphia offers more than 100 associate degree, academic and proficiency certificate programs. The College offers proficiency certificates in a number of occupations, including accounting paraprofessional, advanced automotive repair, architectural visualization, biomedical equipment, automotive service, culinary arts, computer programming and cybersecurity. Associate degrees also are offered for in-demand careers such as engineering science, computer science, dental hygiene and digital forensics.
Certificate and associate degree programs are linked strongly to careers—about 94 percent of certificates and 57 percent of associate degrees are awarded in career-oriented fields.
● Workers who report being employed in a job related to their certificate program have higher median earnings (between $40,001 and $50,000) than those who are not working in a related job (between $20,001 and $30,000)
● About 8 percent of workers have a certificate as their highest level of educational attainment, and 9 percent have an associate degree. An additional 15 percent of workers have some college but no credential
Building student pathways from certificate programs to associates and bachelor’s degree programs will help students better progress in their careers, the report concluded. But without an improved understanding of the educational and economic value of the full range of credentials on the middle-skills pathway, policymakers and higher education leaders risk formulating public policy that excludes a large segment of students.