This report, by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, focuses on the benefits of educational certificates and associate degrees. It also discusses how understanding the labor-market value of the various kinds of certificates and associate degrees is crucial for individuals, policymakers, and education leaders.

The intent of this report is to increase understanding of the value of middle-skills credentials. It outlines the short-term and long-term economic value of specific and general skills and discusses how the middle-skills pathway between a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree is often overlooked. The research analyzes national data on the prevalence of certificates and associate degrees, the students enrolling in and completing these programs, and their labor-market outcomes. In addition to national data, this research had access to state administrative data that is used to examine the labor-market outcomes of these programs.

The report discusses the following:

  1. Prevalence of certificates and associate degrees;
  2. Overview of students enrolling in and completing certificate and associate degree programs;
  3. Outcomes of the labor-market from certificates and associate degrees; and
  4. Recommendations for policymakers.

Major Findings & Recommendations

Findings include:

  1. More students are enrolled in certificate and associate degree programs than in bachelor’s degree programs.
  2. Certificate and associate degree programs disproportionately enroll racial and ethnic minorities. Among certificate, associate degree, and bachelor’s degree seekers enrolled in college, Latino students are more concentrated in certificate and associate degree programs (62%) than in bachelor’s degree programs (38%). The same applies to Blacks (56% and 44%, respectively). In all the analyzed states, Whites are overrepresented in bachelor’s degree attainment.
  3. The link between certificate and associate degree programs and careers is strong. About 94 percent of certificate programs and 57 percent of associate degree programs are career-oriented.
  4. Certificates can pay, but it depends on the field of study. Certificates in engineering technologies lead to high earnings in nearly every state analyzed for this report.
  5. Field of study matters for workers with associate degrees.
  6. Roughly one-third of workers take the middle-skills pathway to jobs.

Recommendations include:

  1. Increase transparency about post-college outcomes, including employment and earnings.
  2. Strengthen accountability for career-oriented programs.
  3. Expand federal postsecondary data-collection efforts to reflect the full range of student experiences.
  4. Build student pathways from certificate programs to associate and bachelor’s degree programs.