Certificates Rise to 22% of Postsecondary Credentials Awarded, Report Says

June 06, 2012

Certificates are the fastest growing form of postsecondary credentials in the nation, surpassing associate and master's degrees as the second most common award in higher education after the B.A., according to a report released on Wednesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Postsecondary certificates made up 22 percent of awarded credentials in 2010, compared with just 6 percent in 1980. Over that time, the number of certificates awarded annually has increased from 100,000 to one million. Their appeal is growing because they are affordable, take less than a year to complete, and often lead to higher earnings, compared with receiving an associate and sometimes even a bachelor's degree, the report says.

The most common occupations of certificate holders are business/office work, transportation, health care, and metal working, the report says.

The authors of the report, "Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees," also found that certificates are often not counted in government statistics, despite their growth. If they were included in those figures, "the United States would move from 15th to 10th in the international rankings of postsecondary attainment," the report says.

Earning a certificate is often a catalyst toward earning a college degree, the report says. One-third of certificate holders also possess an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree. Two out of three of those individuals earned their certificate first, the report says, while one in three earned a degree first.

Most certificate holders reside in the Southern and Western parts of the country. Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Arizona, and Florida produce the most certificates on a per-capita basis. States producing the fewest are New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Vermont, and Hawaii.