More than 50 million U.S. adults, or one in four, have earned a professional certification, license or educational certificate, according to a new Census report on alternative credentials. For workers with less than a bachelor’s degrees, certificates and licenses provide an “earnings premium.”
“Getting an academic degree is not the only way for people to develop skills that pay off in the labor market,” said Stephanie Ewert,co-author of the report.
Certifications and licenses are valuable in many fields, including business/finance management, nursing, education, cosmetology and culinary arts.
Around 30 percent of employed adults held an alternative credential, compared to 16 percent of the unemployed and 13 percent of those not in the labor force.
Seventy-one percent of workers in technical fields hold an alternative credential, the report found.
Certifications that “signal specific competencies” make it easier for jobseekers and employers to find each other, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on Ed Central. “Signals at the lower end of the job market . . . are relatively scarce.”
For people who don’t have the time, disposition, or financial means to complete a college degree, the positive economic return to alternative credentials is welcome news. For education and training providers worried about improving the labor market outcomes of their students, the report points to the value of embedding stackable and competency-based credentials into their programs.
And for the research and advocacy community, the results raise a host of new and important questions about how credentials function at different tiers of the labor market, how we ensure their quality, protect credential-seekers from worthless credentials, and use non-degree credentials to improve job quality.
The U.S. workforce would look a lot better in international comparisons if certificate holders without college degrees were counted as trained workers, McCarthy adds.
“Stackable” short-term vocational certificates can help young people find good jobs, then go back to college for even better jobs, reports Community College Daily.
Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC) in Pennsylvania is working closely with industry partners. “Instead of coming out of college with $50,000 in debt, the goal should be to come out with a $50,000 income,” says Doug Jensen, WCCC associate vice president for workforce education and economic development.
With ArcelorMittal, local high schools and Career and Technical Centers (CTCs) of Pennsylvania, WCCC participates in Steelworker for the Future. The program includes college courses and a paid professional internship.
“When students walk across the stage on graduation day, they get their high school diploma, they get their CTC credentials and they get a certificate from WCCC in applied industrial technology,” says Jensen. High school graduates with Steelworker for the Future credentials can start at up to $27 an hour and make close to $80,000 a year with overtime and bonuses.
Other community colleges participating in Steelworker for the Future include Ivy Tech in Indiana, Moraine Valley Community College and Prairie State College in Illinois, West Virginia Northern Community College and Cuyahoga Community College and Lakeland Community College in Ohio.
New college students will enter a structured program, reports Community College Times. Even high school students in dual enrollment programs will be encouraged to enroll tuition-free in a pathway that leads to a technical or bachelor’s degree.
The system also used research and analysis to identify and address “momentum loss points”—points where students become bogged down and too often pulled off course in their goals toward completion. In community colleges, that usually happens in a student’s first semester or first academic year, particularly in developmental education programs.
“We found too many students entering developmental education without exiting, which is why we have completely redesigned our efforts in North Carolina,” Ralls said.
The colleges tapped expert math and English faculty members across the state to re-engineer curriculum to shorten the length of courses and to develop modules to let students get the courses they need.
The state system also worked with high schools to align career and college readiness testing. Now students will know early whether they’re on track to take college-level community college classes.
Eighty technical programs in in transportation, energy, manufacturing, environment and construction now offer “stackable” credentials. A student can earn a certificate, leave college for the workforce and return later to add an advanced credential.
Texas community colleges are creating stackable credentials for oilfield workers, reports Inside Higher Ed. Oil and gas workers can qualify for an entry-level job, then return to college for more training.
Community colleges are working hard to keep up with petrochemical companies’ demand for workers. The jobs pay well, and many associate degree-holders earn $50,000 to $70,000 a year right out of college.
Students can start at one college, move to follow the jobs and enroll at a new college without losing credits.
Several community colleges have teamed up to create a central core of 36 credits toward a 60-credit associate degree aimed at oil and gas workers. Those courses, which include 15 credits’ worth of accreditor-mandated general education requirements and 21 credits of specialized soft and mechanical skills training, are designed to transfer around the state.
Each credential “stacks” on the one before. “Courses for shorter-term certificates count toward degrees,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
A “marketable skills achievement award,” which takes 9 to 14 credits, leads to an entry-level job.
Next up is a “level one” certificate, which usually takes a year to complete. For example, a basic certificate in process technology at Brazosport is 15 credits. Others can be more involved, with 18 or more credits.
Level two certificates follow. They tend to be somewhat-specialized 30-credit programs. Eventually students can wrap up 60-credit associate degrees in production or processing technology.
That’s not even the last step. Some community colleges have partnered with four-year institutions to create transitions to bachelor’s programs for oil and gas workers. Brazosport, for example, has a transfer agreement with the nearby University of Houston at Victoria for a bachelor’s in applied technology.
Large employers, such as Chevron and Dow Chemical, require an associate degree for new hires. But they’ll hire interns who are working on a degree for as much as $22 an hour.
Texas colleges plan to create stackable credentials for other fields, such as allied health careers and information technology.
North Carolina’s community colleges have created a “green jobs” pathway.
With the help of Labor Department grants, community colleges are accelerating job training programs aimed at adults and “stacking” workforce credentials, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Working with employers, Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges have accelerated training for jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology, biotechnology, green energy and financial services.
In addition to prior-learning assessment and competency-based education, colleges are creating stackable credentials. Students can earn a short-term certificate, find a job and return later to add a higher credential.
For advanced manufacturing, the final product was a pyramid of competencies employees should ideally master to work at various job levels. The colleges worked with manufacturers statewide to develop those standards.
For example, in the precision machining field, entry-level jobs like assemblers or warehouse workers should have skills in five major areas: shop math, blueprint reading, metrology, problem solving and workplace readiness. But further up the pyramid, supervisors and managers should hold certificates and degrees in manufacturing technology, as well as more learned skills, such as programming, and a minimum number of hours working in the industry.
Stacking also works well for health-care credentials, said Ana Sanchez, the “career and college navigator” at Springfield Technical Community College. “Everybody wants to be a nurse,” but not everyone has the math and science skills needed. In one or two semesters, students can earn a certificate as a patient care technician or medical admin. It can be a quick route to the workforce and, for some, the first step on the path to a nursing degree.
With the help of $2 billion in federal job training grants community colleges are helping students earn industry-recognized credentials that will show they’re ready for work, reports Community College Times.
Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) in Kansas is the leader of a consortium that will use its $14.9-million grant to develop industry credentials for the aviation industry. WATC and its partners — Tulsa Community College (Oklahoma), Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana), Guilford Technical Community College (North Carolina) and Edmonds Community College (Washington)—are all located near aviation manufacturing facilities, said Sheree Utash, vice president for academic affairs at WATC. The Wichita area, for example, has Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft plants nearby.
Aviation industry professionals will help develop the curriculum, which will be used by all colleges in the consortium.
The consortium will develop six stackable aviation credentials: sheet metal assembly, composite repair, computer numerical control (machining), electrical assembly, quality assurance and health and safety. The colleges will also create content for online courses and lab projects and implement transfer and articulation agreements.
Other community colleges are using federal grants to fund training in high-tech manufacturing. Harper College in Illinois is leading a statewide network that will create a curriculum leading to stackable, portable certificates in advanced manufacturing. Students will specialize in mechatronics/automation, numerical controls, metal fabrication and supply chain management/logistics.
Community colleges will get $500 million in federal grants to fund job training. The Labor and Education departments will work together on the program, which will focus on ”skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.”
“Many employers are currently unable to fill well-paying jobs because applicants lack the skills,” says JFF President and CEO Marlene B. Seltzer. “Today’s good jobs require education beyond high school and training that prepares workers with practical skills that employers need. Accelerating Opportunity focuses on educational programs that lead to the credentials workers need to secure a family-sustaining job and long-lasting career opportunities.”
Accelerating Opportunity hopes to create career pathways leading to “marketable, stackable, credit-bearing credentials” in at least 40 community colleges by 2014.
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.
Chicago’s city colleges are closing the skills gap, writes Chancellor Cheryl Hyman. Last December, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hyman launched the College to Careers initiative.
College to Careers has attracted major corporate partners, from UPS to United Airlines, from Walgreen to CVS, who are eager to help City Colleges develop what we call “credentials of economic value,” meaning that students earn credentials that have real value to both employers and 4-year colleges.
In the next decade, strong job growth is projected in health care, transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL), business, information technology, culinary/hospitality and manufacturing, Hyman writes. Chicago started with a focus on health care and TDL.
Through College to Careers, industry-leading companies work collaboratively with our faculty and staff to design the curriculum and facilities needed to train students for success. They provide City Colleges’ students with access to teacher-practitioners, internships and the latest technologies, as well as a first pass at job interviews. Why are our partners investing their time and resources? They clearly realize that the quality of their future is tied to the quality of America’s workforce, and therefore, our students’ success.
In addition, City Colleges is developing stackable credentials: Each certificate or degree will be valuable on its own and be a step toward a higher-level credential.
One partner, Allscripts, which provides electronic records and information systems to hospitals and physicians, hired 48 City Colleges’ graduates this summer, Hyman writes. The first six months of the new hires’ salaries will be supported through a $2-million fund created by the mayor.
Low-income community college students who enter a program of study or concentration increase their chances of success, concludes a new Community College Research Center study of first-time students in Washington state. However, many disadvantaged students start at low remedial levels, attempt few credits and quit before starting a program of study aimed at a certificate or associate degree.
Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds who did focus their studies were more likely than advantaged students to choose career-technical education (CTE), where completion rates are lower than in liberal arts and sciences. They disproportionately study education, child care and secretarial services, which have low completion rates and often lead to low-paying jobs. However, low-SES students are well represented in nursing and allied health fields, which lead to relatively high-paying jobs.
Some researchers and policy analysts have suggested that it would be beneficial to encourage more students into pathways that involve multiple, ―stackable credentials in CTE fields with relatively high labor market returns. Given that liberal arts and sciences is the default pathway for the majority of younger students, convincing recent high school graduates to choose a CTE path would likely require a fundamental shift in the way high schools and community colleges guide and prepare young, first-time college students.
Increasing the rate at which students “enter coherent programs of study” could help boost completion rates, researchers concluded. More than half of younger, first-time college students tried to pursue a credential or said they intended to try but didn’t follow through. These students could be “low-hanging fruit.”
Low-SES students struggle at every step on the way to a credential, researchers found. However, they do better relative to others in career education, suggesting that “career education pathways could be a promising route to help reduce the attainment gap.”