Certificate Programs Continue to Grow in Popularity

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Oftentimes, when online learning is discussed, it’s in the context of degree or associate programs. However, according to a recent report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, certificates are the fastest-growing postsecondary credential program over the past several decades.[i] Whether it’s due to misperceptions, or simply a lack of knowledge, it appears that certificate programs don’t always get the due recognition they deserve.

The Benefits of Online Certificates

One of the many benefits of online certificate programs is that they could serve as a stepping-stone to further education and degree completion. In fact, two of every three workers who have a certificate and a college degree earned the certificate first. In many cases, certificate-holders may also receive an occupationally-oriented learning environment that helps more thoroughly prepare them for on-the-job situations. Not only that, but the majority of certificate programs are relatively cheap, may be completed quickly (50% take less than a year) and may pay off more in the long run than two-year or four-year degrees. [i]

Some other interesting statistics in the Georgetown study [i] include:

  • Over 1 million certificates were awarded in 2010 (up from 300,000 in 1994).
  • Certificates have grown from 6% of postsecondary awards in 1980 to 22% of awards today.
  • Certificates have superseded Associate’s and Master’s degrees as the second most common award in the American postsec­ondary education and career training system.
  • In 1984, only 2% of workers reported a vocational certificate as their highest educational attainment – that figure today is 11%.
  • On average, certificate holders earn 20% more than high-school educated workers.
  • Even when certificates don’t produce a substantial wage increase, they may add value by potentially making individuals more employable.
  • The highest percentages of certificate holders working in their field of study include: business/office work (62%), transportation (56%), healthcare (54%) and metalworking (50%).

Certificate Programs and Gender Differences

Another noteworthy figure to come out of this study is that male certificate-holders earn a wage premium that are 27% higher than median earning of those with only a high school diploma, while the premium for women is just 16%. According to the researchers, this gender gap exists in part due to the fact that men and women tend to enter different fields, which vary in salary. For example, the results showed that women with certificates are concentrated in healthcare (38%), business/office work (27%) and cosmetology (20%). Whereas, men sought certificates in a wider range of areas including refrigeration, heating and air conditioning, drafting, aviation and electronics, which provide the largest wage returns for men. [i]


[i] www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/Certificates.ExecutiveSummary.071712.pdf

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