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Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials

Thu Jan 16 2014
Robert Kominsk, Stephanie Ewert
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Social science research has repeatedly shown a link between educational attainment and social and economic outcomes. Although we have insight into how high school diplomas and college degrees shape achievement, what about other avenues of training and skill development? 

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 In addition to, or instead of, regular schooling, some people earn educational certificates, professional certifications, or licenses or participate in noncredit courses, on-the-job training, or apprenticeships. Findings released today from the 2012 Survey of Income and Program Participation show that 22 percent of adults held a professional certification or license, and 9 percent held an educational certificate. Therefore, a sizable proportion of the population holds alternative educational credentials independent of traditional degrees. A professional certification or license is awarded by a certification body or licensing agency through an examination process or other predetermined criteria. An educational certificate is typically awarded by an educational institution based on a program of study. 

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Until now, federal surveys had not collected data on these alternative education and training mechanisms in a systematic fashion. Our new report, Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials, not only provides the first national estimates of professional certifications, licenses, and educational certificates but also explores their labor market value. 

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So, do these alternative credentials pay off in the labor market? Our findings suggest that they do, particularly for those with low levels of educational attainment.  Full-time workers earned more with an alternative credential than without. The median monthly earnings for someone with a professional certification or license only was $4,167 compared with $3,433 for someone with an educational certificate only, $3,920 for someone with both types of credentials, and $3,110 for someone without any alternative credential.

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The benefit of having an alternative credential is concentrated among people with low levels of regular education. Professional certification or license holders earned more than those without an alternative credential at each level of education below the bachelor’s degree. Among people with less than an associate’s degree, educational certificate holders also earned more than people without an alternative credential.

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For more details on the prevalence of alternative credentials and their relationship to labor market outcomes, see our report Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials.

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