- In construction and engineering fields, associate’s degrees and certificates can lead to careers that earn workers as much as or more than many bachelor’s degrees, according to a new study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).
- The report, titled "The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees: What Students Need to Know Before They Go to College," found that the combined number of certificates and associate’s degrees awarded by colleges is similar to the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded — around 2 million per year — with certificates and associate’s degrees each accounting for about 1 million.
- CEW found that workers with associate’s degrees in engineering or architecture have median earnings that are about twice as high as those with associate’s degrees in education and the arts. Workers with certificates in engineering technologies have median earnings that outpace earnings for those with certificates in education. Certificate holders in engineering technologies have a median annual salary between $70,000 and $150,000. Certificate holders in construction trades have a median salary between $40,000 and $50,000, which is higher than certificate holders in the fields of computer science, business management, accounting, healthcare or education.
The report examined the labor-market value of associate’s degrees and certificate programs, finding that field of study especially influences future earnings for these programs since they are tightly linked with specific occupations.
In addition to providing the opportunity to earn a competitive salary, these non-bachelor's programs are strongly linked to specific careers, according to the study. Associate’s degrees include a mix of general education and career preparation, while certificates are almost exclusively career-oriented. Roughly 94% of certification programs and 57% of associate degrees awarded in the U.S. are in career-oriented fields, it said.
The study also found that there are more students in certificate and associate’s degree programs in the U.S. than in bachelor’s degree programs, and certificate and associate’s degree programs are far more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and age.
About 50% of postsecondary students taking undergraduate coursework are enrolled in certificate and associate’s degree programs; 47% are enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs; and 3% are taking coursework but are not enrolled in a certificate or degree program.
Of those numbers, less than 9% of postsecondary students are enrolled in certificate programs and 41.4% are in associate’s degree programs.
Finding and keeping a deep rotation of skilled subcontractors is increasingly challenging for contractors. It has become trickier for general contractors to find enough quality subcontractors to meet project demand, with 80% of them saying they were having difficulty finding adequate numbers of skilled craft workers for projects.
The study's authors said that states are leading the way in innovating new data-collection methods to determine the labor-market value of certificate and associate’s degree programs. Further progress on the issue will depend on federal policy action, especially through the anticipated reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.