Certificate programs a ‘viable on-ramp’ to earnings growth, study finds

A new study published by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce explores the value of certificates in Oregon for college-age students entering the labor market and adults already in the workforce, emphasizing the potential for “meaningful earnings increases” following certificate.

Awards of certificates have grown rapidly since 2000—outpacing growth in awards of bachelor’s degrees—as students look to certificates both as a direct path to employment and a “stepping stone” toward degree completion. According to the study authors, these trends have not only sparked interest in certificate programs’ potential to increase postsecondary access, but also generated scrutiny of certificates’ actual labor market value.

The study, which analyzes data from 3,255 Oregon certificate holders, finds that certificate recipients ages 29 or younger “reap sizable earnings gains, in some cases more than doubling their pay.” For older certificate holders, though, the credential seems to help established workers “rebound from job losses or other setbacks.” Economic benefits also varied widely by field of study, with health certificates producing the largest earnings gains. Noting the need for new strategies that reach adult learners, study co-author Neil Ridley says certificate programs “provide a viable on-ramp for these learners to enroll in college and…expand their options in the labor market.”

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute that studies the link between individual goals, education and training curricula, and career pathways. For more information, visit cew.georgetown.edu.

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