Texans who earn a vocational certificate often earn more than associate-degree graduates in their first year in the workforce, concludes Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities Who Are Working in Texas. Some workers with certificates earn more than $70,000 – $30,000 more than the median for graduates with bachelor’s degrees, concludes the Lumina-funded study by College Measures, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group.
The median starting pay for criminal justice/police science certificate holders is $48,192, double the compared with $24,298 for those with an academic associate’s degree. Some health-care certificates allowed graduates to earn $70,000. Other high-paying certificates included: construction engineering technology/technician, electrician, pipefitting, engineering, industrial technology, and instrumentation technician.
However, not all certificates lead to high-paying jobs. Recipients of two dozen certificate programs earned less than $13,000 in their first year on the job. Cosmetologists and nursing/patient care assistants usually earned low wages.
Technical associate’s degrees pay well: The median starting salary is more than $50,000. By contrast, an academic associate degree lead to median earnings of $24,298,
First-year earnings for bachelor’s degree holders range from about $25,000 (biology) to about $47,000 (accounting): The average is $39,725.
Community college graduates’ first-year salaries vary from one college to another.
Academic associate’s degrees range from about $10,000 (Ranger College) to more than $30,000 for graduates from the Trinity Campus of Tarrant County Junior College and from Central Texas Community College.
For graduates with technical degrees, the range is even greater, from about $20,000 for graduates of Clarendon College to more than $65,000 for graduates from seven community colleges: College of the Mainland Community College District, San Jacinto College South Campus, Tarrant County Junior College South Campus, Galveston College, El Centro College, Trinity Valley Community College and Weatherford College.
A national study and analyses in Tennessee and Virginia have found similar results: Technical certificates and associate degrees often pay better than non-technical bachelor’s degrees at the start of graduates’ careers.
More students are trying to earn vocational certificates, but most don’t qualify for federal student aid, reports the New York Times. Federal aid “goes overwhelmingly” to students in degree programs, while many certificate students have to pay their own way.
Federal financial aid, like Pell grants, is not available to students who take noncredit courses, and many certificate programs, whether to be a certified nurse’s aide or to fix air-conditioners and heating systems, are not for credit.
Suri Duitch, dean of continuing education at the City University of New York, said federal programs often treated certificate students like second-class citizens. “These programs are less expensive than the degree programs at many four-year schools, but this student population generally has fewer resources,” said Ms. Duitch, whose university has more than 220,000 students in nondegree programs.
Federal job training funds are limited and workers who want to upgrade their skills may not qualify.
Vocational certificates are growing in popularity. In a few months to a few years, workers can improve their employability and earnings significantly, especially in technical fields. Men with certificates in computer/information services earned $72,498 a year on average, more than 54 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees, according to a Georgetown study; women earned more than 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees.
Yet, Northern Virginia Community College dropped plans to offer information technology certificates because too few students could afford the course. NOVA also had to delay its program for certified nurses’ aides to give students time to come up with the money. Ana Bausher, who earns $250 a week as a part-time clerk for United Parcel Service, “had to save up six, seven months” to afford the $1,600 fee for the four-week course.
Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and the chief author of its study on certificates, questioned whether it was the best use of federal money to give Pell grants to students at four-year colleges who pursue majors in fields like philosophy, with little economic payoff in employment and earnings. Why not, he asked, provide aid to students who take noncredit certificate courses that often translate quickly into jobs and higher pay?
“If you want to take four years of Shakespeare, that’s up to you,” he said. “Is that what the public sector should support? The bottom line is, given the budget situation, we ought to be more concerned about preparing people for the job market.”
Despite high unemployment, employers complain they can’t find skilled workers. Few are looking for philosophers.
Old ideas about higher education are keeping completion rates low at community colleges argues Removing the BA Blinders: Reconceiving Community College Procedures to Improve Student Success, part of The Changing Ecology of Higher Education from Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.
Outdated norms — “all students should pursue a BA degree, take four years of full-time courses, expect no interim credentials or payoffs, explore only academic fields (labeled “general education”), and require minimal formal guidance” — pose “serious barriers to nontraditional students, write James Rosenbaum, Janet Rosenbaum and Jennifer Stephan.
In our interviews, community college students report a wide variety of mistakes in college. They take many courses without credits, they receive many credits that do not count toward credentials, they face predictable delays without receiving warning about them, and they receive credentials that have no job payoffs.
Many reformers have BA blinders. They devote great energy to transforming low-achieving students into traditional students by imposing massive amounts of remedial coursework. This BA-centric approach has failed consistently—sometimes with failure rates as high as 83% in national studies, for students placed in the lowest level of remedial coursework.
The researchers compared six community colleges with two for-profit career colleges. The career colleges had a much higher success rate: 57 percent vs 37 percent. For blacks, the difference was striking: While only 19 perent of blacks in community college completed a credential, 64 percent completed at private career colleges.
“Students at private occupational colleges are nearly identical to public community college students in terms of prior test scores, grades, and socioeconomic status,” according to federal data, the researchers point out.
Private career colleges help students earn vocational certificates quickly en route to an associate degree. If they quit after the first certificate, they’ve improved their employment prospects. It’s often a bachelor’s or nothing — usually nothing — for community college students.
In traditional community colleges, students go through a “fail-first” process in which 42% drop out in the first year, 50% of them return, and 53% of them drop out again. In interviews, counselors report that they do not mention their occupational programs to young students (ages 18 to 24). Students are only told about these options if they are returning dropouts or older than age 24.
Since it’s assumed all students should go for a bachelor’s degree, community colleges place students in remedial courses to acquire college-level academic skills and urge first-year students to take a smattering of general education courses. Many students could skip remediation if they were urged to take vocational courses, the report finds. “In our interviews with 48 occupational faculty, most reported that computer networking technicians, medical technicians, and accounting staff only need eighth- to tenth-grade math skills.”
Career colleges structure programs, telling students exactly what to take, require advising, monitor students’ progress carefully and provide job placement services, researchers found. In community colleges, students are on their own — unless they have college-savvy parents who can guide them.
The report recommends seven ways to improve completion:
1. Offer opportunities for quick successes
2. Offer opportunities for quick payoffs
3. Avoid or delay obstacles that prevent success
4. Develop degree ladders
5. Provide structured program pathways with courses in predictable time slots
6. Provide “guardrails” that help guide student progress
7. Emphasize job placement
Many students want a bachelor’s degree because they’ve been told it’s the only path to success. The portion of incoming freshmen that cited ”to be able to get a better job” as a very important reason for attending college reached an all-time high of 87.9 percent in 2012, reports UCLA’s annual survey of new students at four-year colleges and universities. There are many realistic options for career-minded students with little chance of completing a bachelor’s degree but a fighting shot at a pharmacy tech certificate or an associate degree in computer networking.
Lumina Foundation’s new strategic plan for 2013-2016 describes new ideas for ways to reach the foundation’s goal: 60 percent of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials by 2025. The plan calls for:
Creating new models of student financial support that make college more affordable, make costs more predictable and transparent, provide incentives to increase completion, and align federal, state and institutional policies and programs.
Creating new higher education business and finance models that significantly expand the nation’s capacity to deliver affordable, high-quality education—supported by public finance and regulatory policies that create incentives for, and remove barriers to, innovation.
Creating new systems of quality credentials and credits defined by learning and competencies rather than time, clear and transparent pathways to students, high-quality learning, and alignment with workforce needs and trends.
Lumina plans to spend $300 million over the next four years.
“There hasn’t been enough progress on the attainment agenda,” Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president, told Inside Higher Ed.
Lumina will also continue to push completion-related efforts at both the state and federal levels. And the foundation’s leadebbrs said federal policy would be crucial in shaping a modern higher education system necessary to encourage the 23 million additional degrees and meaningful credentials needed to hit 60 percent attainment.
They pointed to a desperate need for strong leadership at the federal level on questions about the structure of student aid, quality assurance and accreditation, and the alignment of workforce development and higher education.
Lumina wants to make it easier for students who’ve learned on the job, online or on their own to earn credits for competency. Officials also are keeping an eye on “emerging forms of credentialing, like certificates issued by massive open online course (MOOC) providers,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Lumina will add certificates to its Degree Qualifications Profile, which “attempts to establish what constitutes a valuable college degree.”
Community colleges “took the greatest hit” in 2010 as higher education struggled to recover from recession, concludes the Delta Cost Project in College Spending in a Turbulent Decade.
All colleges and universities are trying to serve more students with less money, the report found. “As funding failed to keep pace with historic increases in enrollment, educational spending per student plummeted to its lowest level in a decade.”
Community colleges suffered the greatest financial hardships.
Historic enrollment increases, combined with sharp losses in per-student revenues from state appropriations and meager increases in net tuition revenue, resulted in significant cuts to academic spending per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. Community colleges concluded the decade spending less per student than they had ten years earlier.
State universities were able to preserve spending on instruction and student services, while private four-year institutions implemented widespread cuts, the report found. Although students covered a larger portion of educational costs, sharp tuition increases were not enough to offset lost revenues.
Funding for community colleges continued to fall further behind other public institutions. . . They were the only public institutions at which average total operating revenues per FTE student declined in 2010 and also were lower than a decade earlier. Community colleges suffered the deepest cuts in state and local appropriations per student in 2010, with funding reduced by approximately $1,000 per student; however, they also limited the new money coming from net tuition revenue more than did other types of public institutions.
Efforts to keep community colleges accessible and affordable while accommodating more than 40 percent of new higher education students—often the most economically or academically disadvantaged—have significantly eroded the resources they have to devote to each student.
The growth in less costly, shorter-term certificate programs cut the cost of completion in community colleges from 2000 to 2010.
Proactive support for students improve success rates for career-tech programs at Washington community and technical colleges, concludes a Community College Research Center study. The study looked at high-performing and low-performing programs in allied health, business and marketing, computer and information studies, and mechanics and repair.
A common college-level mechanism in high-performing colleges was an early alert system, which provides a proactive and potentially consistent way to identify students who are having trouble with a course or a program of study and intervene before they fall too far behind.
One high-performing college used dedicated, knowledgeable allied health counselors to advise students, instead of counselors who handled all fields of study.
Higher performing programs were less likely to emphasize the associate degree and more likely to promote long-term vocational certificates that require fewer general education courses and let students enter the workforce quickly.
. . . an emphasis on earning a long-term certificate and then immediately seeking paid employment could provide students with more motivation to complete than a bigger picture focus on an associate degree to improve long-term career options.
Low-performing programs offered more short-term certificates, which tend to be less valuable in the workplace. It’s possible programs with low graduation rates begin offering short-term certificates so “students would have at least some credential even if they dropped out,” the study concludes.
North Carolina community colleges have consolidated “green” jobs’ programs, creating stackable credentials that let students move easily between jobs and advanced schooling, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Using employer feedback on core skills and competencies, the 58-college system created 47 new courses, revised 219 and dropped 92.
“Our goal was not to create one-off programs” at individual campuses, said Scott Ralls, the system’s president. “It’s a curriculum that cuts across 58 colleges.”
. . . The program, named the Code Green Super Curriculum Improvement Project, affects academic areas related to building, energy, environment, transportation and engineering technology. More than 80 curriculum standards were consolidated into 32 revised ones, based on “career clusters” like architecture and construction technology (see box).
In many cases, students can earn an industry-recognized certificate with 12 to 18 credits, find a job and return later to any community college in the state to work toward a higher-level certificate or degree.
In addition to technical courses, the new energy credentials include “employability competencies,” such as working in teams.
Community colleges are being asked to help Americans earn associate degrees, vocational certificates and industry-recognized certifications, but many college leaders say they don’t have the money to do the job, reports Workforce Training in a Recovering Economy 2012 by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.
Many of those surveyed said funding cuts will make it hard to add high-cost training programs or to raise graduation rates.
Community college leaders said increasing the number of vocational certificates was a priority. Many said their colleges are under pressure to offer or expand “quick” job-training programs in non-credit areas.
. . . state community college leaders believe high unemployment has strained the available workforce training capacity at community colleges in many states, as budget woes limit the development and maintenance of programs to prepare individuals for high-skill, high-wage jobs.
Federal workforce training programs should create a “formal preference” for community colleges, the report recommends.
California’s two-year for-profit colleges have higher graduation rates than community colleges, reports the Orange County Register, which analyzed data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. As in other states, students seeking bachelor’s degrees were much less likely to graduate at four-year for-profit institutions.
California spends $10 billion a year on ccommunity colleges, which enroll 2.6 million students.
Nationwide, for-profit schools receive $32 billion in federal student loans and grants, according to a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions investigation.
In California, only one-quarter of degree-seeking students graduate from community colleges in three years, compared to nearly two-thirds of for-profit students seeking a two-year degree or certificate.
East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program, a job training center, had the highest graduation rate of any public two-year program: 38.2 percent complete a credential in two years and 93.4 percent in three years.
College of the Redwoods in the rural north posts the lowest graduation rate: 4.7 percent in two years and 5.8 percent in three.