The Earnings & Employment of Certificate Earners in Kentucky report, conducted in partnership with the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, found that certificate holders increase their earnings about 14% on average, have higher rates of earnings growth and are more likely to be employed than before they earned their certificate.
“Certificate programs are becoming more and more popular, especially in Kentucky, which warrants a study of their value to both the individual and the state,” said Travis Muncie, CPE’s executive director of data and advanced analytics. “The goal of this report is to better understand the costs and benefits of certificate programs and the career trajectories of graduates to help inform policy decisions.”
Nationally, sub-baccalaureate certificate granting has grown nearly 80% over the past 20 years. At public institutions, the number of certificates granted annually was up over 140% during the same period. Kentucky is a national leader in short-term certificate granting, awarding about four times the national average.
“As careers and technology continue to change, employers and workers are understanding the value of short-term training programs,” said Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Paul Czarapata. “It’s a win for both of them because certificates can be earned in weeks or months, not years, so people are getting upskilled or reskilled quickly. That’s extremely important in this competitive environment.”
The report focuses on Kentuckians who have earned one postsecondary certificate and who were employed prior to pursuing their certificate. By focusing on this group of students, the study authors could compare their subjects’ earnings and employment after completing their certificates to their earnings and employment before entering a certificate program. The authors also compared certificate earners to students who earned associate degrees and those who started, but did not complete, a sub-baccalaureate credential.
The study found certificate earners who studied a STEM field experienced the highest earnings increase followed by health care professions and skilled trades.
Earnings increases are largest among students who took more credits while earning their certificate. Students who took 15 or more credits in their fields of study have earnings increases that are about twice as large as those who completed certificates with fewer credits related to their fields of study.
Students who pursue certificates are different in important ways than those who earn associate degrees or those who never earned a college credential. Those differences include their chosen fields of study, gender, race, ethnicity and age. Moreover, certificate earners have distinctive labor market experiences, with relatively low pre-enrollment earnings and employment rates as compared to other students in the study’s sample, suggesting that certificate students have unique needs and reasons for pursuing postsecondary education.
“It is important to recognize the wide variation of experiences in the job market and motivations for attending college among students earning certificates,” Muncie said. “They need different supports that necessitate different policies and practices.”
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