Earning a vocational certificate in one year or less can raise earnings significantly, concludes a forthcoming study announced at a Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment conference. Past research has found labor market payoffs only for longer-term certificates.
Di Xu and Madeline Trimble, researchers at the Community College Research Center, found “positive, significant returns” for short-term certificates earned at community colleges in Virginia and North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed.
North Carolina students earned $1,172 more per year, on average, and were 7 percent more likely to be employed. Virginians who earned a certificate earned $888 more and were 3 percent more likely to be working.
The value of certificates varies, depending on the field, said Trimble. Earning a basic law enforcement certificate at a North Carolina community college leads to a $10,000-plus raise because the certificate is “tightly tied to licensing requirements” in the state, she said.
Short-term certificates in nursing or medical assisting failed to yield almost any labor-market returns, the research found, while longer-term certificates in those fields did well. And short-term certificates in some health-care disciplines, such as in phlebotomy in North Carolina or dental assisting in Virginia, did result in substantial wage gains.
At Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), certificates are stackable, said Bob Templin, NOVA’s president. Credits will count toward higher-level certificates and degrees.
Students who earn a 12-week certificate in an automotive technology field, such as one for an emissions specialist, are employed and earning $39,000 a year 18 months later, said Templin. But there’s little pay bump for people who earn emergency medical certificates because most students use them to become volunteer first responders for fire departments.
Associate degrees in liberal arts, humanities or general education don’t raise earnings, concludes a study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment. These degrees pay off only if they’re the first step to a bachelor’s degree.
A college degree is becoming the new high school diploma, the minimum credential required to get even the most basic, entry-level job, writes Catherine Rampell in the New York Times. It takes a BA to get a job as a file clerk.
“Upcredentialing,” also known as “degree inflation,” is affecting a wide range of jobs in administration, sales and other fields, reports Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company. For example, just 25 percent of insurance clerks have a four-year degree, but “twice that percentage of insurance-clerk job ads require one,” reports Rampell. ” Among executive secretaries and executive assistants, 19 percent of job-holders have degrees, but 65 percent of job postings mandate them.”
Employers prefer college graduates even for jobs that don’t require advanced skills, reports Burning Glass. A third of 25- to 29-year-olds have a four-year degree, notes Rampell. “Bachelor’s degrees are probably seen less as a gold star for those who have them than as a red flag for those who don’t. If you couldn’t be bothered to get a degree in this day and age, you must be lazy, unreliable or dumb.”
“Employers are clearly skeptical that an associate degree really meets their needs,” says Burning Glass CEO Matt Sigelman.
However, “jobs resist credential inflation when there are good alternatives for identifying skill proficiency,” the company reports. Health care jobs, such as nursing and respiratory therapy, and engineering technician jobs “are governed by strict licensing or certification standards, well-developed training programs, or by measurable skill standards such that employers do not need to look at a college degree as a proxy for capability.”
More Texas community colleges could be allowed to offer four-year degrees starting in 2015, reports the Texas Tribune.
In early August, Raymund Paredes, the state’s higher education commissioner, who had expressed skepticism about such programs in the past, notified legislators that he planned to recommend that such offerings be allowed at more institutions.
“I made my recommendation on the basis of trying to create another pathway for poor, nontraditional students in Texas to achieve a baccalaureate degree,” he said.
A recent RAND study concluded that allowing more community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees could help meet workforce needs.
“Interested community colleges will have to demonstrate a work force need for their desired degree program, as well as show that the program was not duplicating any others in the region and that the possibility of collaborating with local universities had been exhausted, among other criteria,” reports the Tribune.
As early as next year, some California community colleges will start offering four-year degrees if the governor signs a bill that cleared the state Legislature Thursday.
Colleges will be allowed to offer one bachelor’s degree program per campus, if the degree isn’t available at a nearby state university, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Proponents of SB 850 — introduced by state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego — argued that bachelor’s degrees in technical fields are in great demand and noted that 21 other states allow their community colleges to offer such programs.
“In today’s economy, many businesses require their employees to possess a four-year degree or higher skill sets than are offered through associate degree programs, even in fields such as dental hygiene or automotive technology where a two-year degree would have been sufficient in the past,” Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release. “I applaud the Legislature for addressing California’s urgent workforce needs.”
Illinois community college leaders tried to add four-year degrees eight years ago, reports The Southern. Now they’re trying again, arguing that offering four-year degrees at two-year colleges will enhance access and affordability.
“We spend time, money and effort recruiting and retaining students and then we ignore how they can best contribute to their local community’s economy and quality of life,” Breuder wrote in a March 26 letter published by the Chicago Tribune.
“We shouldn’t lose them because we couldn’t offer the baccalaureate degree in a field that no public university cares to offer despite a documented need within the districts the community colleges serve.”
Nursing, construction management, electronics and healthcare administration would be possibilities at John A. Logan College, says President Mike Dreith said. But he doesn’t want to endanger the college’s “extremely sensitive” relationship with nearby Southern Illinois University, which strongly opposed a baccalaureate option at community colleges eight years ago.
It’s time to let community colleges offer four-year degrees in technical fields, writes Jim Nowlan, a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, in the News-Gazette.
A full-time community college student pays about $3,500 a year in tuition and usually lives at home, he notes. A state university student pays $10,000 to $14,000 — before room and board fees.
College of DuPage enrolls 28,000 students — more than any campus in the state other than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students take courses in 90 certificate programs and 59 associate degree occupations.
Breuder wants to take advantage of COD’s strong position to offer low-cost, four-year degrees in fields like information technology, public safety management, advanced manufacturing, auto technology management and, especially, nursing.
Twenty-two states have approved four-year degrees at community colleges, writes Nowlan. Illinois should too.
STEPHANIE RABELLO, REGISTERED NURSE | Working her way from practical nurse to registered nurse to bachelor-degree nurse. Preston Mack for The Wall Street Journal
There’s more than one route to the middle class, writes Tamar Jacoby in This Way Up in the Wall Street Journal. “Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships.”
What they need are “easy on-ramps, goal-oriented job training and a series of ascending steps, with industry-certified credentials to guide the way.”
In Orlando, Fla., there are many paths to the nursing profession, she writes.
The University of Central Florida trains only bachelor-degree nurses. You need an outstanding high-school record, there’s a long waiting list, and tuition is $14,000 for in-state students—and more than three times that if you’re not from Florida. Two well-equipped, award-winning community colleges—Seminole State and Valencia —offer associate-degree RN programs, where tuition is $7,500. Then there is Orlando Tech, a county-run career center, located in an old building in an industrial area near downtown, which trains licensed practical nurses for about $5,000.
RNs average $65,000 year, while LPNs start below $40,000. But there are ways to move up.
The streamlined route starts in high school: a “dual enrollment” magnet program that allows focused, able students to earn college credit and professional certifications, including as a nursing assistant. Participants who enroll within two years at Seminole or Valencia get advanced placement credit, saving as much as $1,250. And those who are really in a hurry can matriculate simultaneously at UCF, earning “concurrent” credit for advanced courses taken at community-college prices, then graduate in just three years with a UCF bachelor’s degree.
For many, it’s a long journey. Stephanie Rabello, 41, went from high school to a 10-month LPN program at a local career center. After nearly 20 years as a practical nurse, she enrolled in a yearlong LPN-to-RN “bridge” program at Seminole State. “Online classes and convenient clinical rotations” let her continue working while she studied, writes Jacoby. Now an RN, Rabello hopes to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at UCF.
Sherry Harris, 33, who followed a similar path from LPN to RN, calls it “step-by-step” professional training—the “working-class way in.” Ms. Harris is now taking the next step: an RN-to-BSN program for a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, also looks at welding — which can pay as much as $100,000 a year — and franchise management.
Commonly used college quality measures, such as graduation rates and loan defaults, are inadequate and sometimes misleading, writes Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst for the New America Foundation, on EdCentral.
Completion statistics for community colleges and other two-year-or-less institutions are especially inaccurate, he writes. It’s not just that the federal data misses part-timers and transfers. Completion data also confuses success rates in short-term certificate programs with longer-term associate degrees.
. . . many certificate programs run for no more than a year. These programs thus present fewer opportunities for students to drop out. That’s why colleges that predominantly grant certificates tend to have quite high completion rates and also the reason that for-profit institutions often appear to have better graduation rates than the largely associate-degree-granting community colleges.
A low completion rate is a sign of low quality, but a high completion rate may signify a quick, easy program with very little return on students’ time and money.
Cohort default rates also can be misleading, especially for community colleges with very few borrowers, writes Miller.
For example, Gadsden State Community College in Alabama has a 20 percent default rate but that’s based on five borrowers out of an enrollment of over 8,967. This makes it impossible to draw any conclusions about a college based upon less than 0.05 percent of the college.
On the other side, a low cohort default rate might be just as much an indication of successful loan management than success. The cohort default rate only measures whether students default within a certain time window. Students who default after that period or who are extremely delinquent but never default are not counted in the rate. The usage of income-based payment plans can also distort cohort default rates, since a borrower could be earning such a low income from their program that they have to make little to no payments, making it more difficult to default.
Passage rates on licensure or certification exams, such as in nursing, do measure learning outcomes. However some programs — especially in teaching — ensure a 100 percent pass rate by denying diplomas to students who haven’t passed the exam.
Earning an associate or bachelor’s degree paid off for students who enrolled in North Carolina community colleges in 2002-03, concludes a working paper from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE). The economic returns for health-care credentials such as nursing were “extremely high.”
However, certificates did not produce strong economic benefits.
The recession did not erode the “substantial and consistent” gains from earning a two-year degree, the report found. “Even accumulating some college credits (but no degree) led to higher earnings for students.”
Students who earned degrees in nursing, allied health fields, construction, mechanics and welding improved their earning significantly, reports Community College Daily. However, there were no economic returns for women who earned education or child care degrees; men in those fields actually did worse.
The CAPSEE review tracked incomes five years after initial enrollment for students enrolling between 2001 and 2008 and completing an associate degree. It found that the advantage conferred by a degree remained consistent — about $4,800 per year for women and $3,000 per year for men — despite the recession starting in late 2007.
Graduates were less likely to be unemployed, according to CAPSEE.
Nearly half of students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.
Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.
Most don’t make it.
Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field. The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.
Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.
Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.
Community colleges are filled with young women who “think they’re going to be nurses” but won’t be, a researcher once told me. They don’t have the math or science foundation.
First-generation college students often focus on nursing because they’re not aware of their alternatives, writes Matt Reed, a community college dean. A colleague told him her job is to “talk students out of nursing.”
California may let community colleges offer low-cost bachelor’s degrees, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
It would “save us money in the long run,” said State Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, who’s introduced a bill to authorize one bachelor’s program per campus for a few college districts.
It’s getting harder for graduates to find jobs in fields such as nursing and respiratory therapy with just an associate degree, but it’s also harder to transfer into state university programs.
Ruby Guzman waited three years to get into the Contra Costa College nursing program, and now, about to earn an associate degree, she’s on the wait list at Cal State East Bay. “It just feels like roadblock after roadblock,” Guzman said.
Community colleges in 21 states offer four-year degree programs. “I’d just like to see California catch up with the rest of the nation,” said Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
Both critics and advocates worry the state won’t adequately fund the programs, notes the Mercury News. “That’s always the million-dollar question, like are you going to pay for it?” said Aaron Bielenberg, president of the college system’s student senate.
Now that the state budget outlook has improved, momentum is building, said Barry Russell, president of Las Positas College in Livermore. “I think it’s an inevitable move that needs to be made,” said Russell.
Each year, De Anza College‘s automotive technology program graduates about 140 students. With a certificate or associate degree, they will get good jobs as technicians, but their career options are limited, said Randy Bryant, the department head.
Moving up at a dealership or opening their own shop now requires a bachelor’s degree or higher, but Bryant says his students often fear transferring to a four-year business program — and he wants them to be able to “finish what they start here.”
Bryant is designing a four-year automotive management degree, which combines technical skills with “courses in ethics, entrepreneurship, management, sales and marketing, and inventory control.”
If the bill passes, there will be pressure to offer more than one four-year degree at each campus. At Foothill College, the dental hygiene and the respiratory therapy programs already want to offer bachelor’s degrees.