New Data Show Wage Boost with Non-Degree Credentials

Christina Pena
April 15, 2016

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released new data on non-degree credentials, reporting information from the first Current Population Survey questions about professional certifications and licenses.

The Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau for BLS, has included labor force status by level of education in the past, but has not addressed these non-degree credentials until the questions were added to the CPS in January 2015.

The new results show that these credentials are associated with higher earnings. In particular, workers 25 years of age and older with some college or an associate's degree had median earnings that were 11 percent higher when they held a professional certification or license, compared to the same group without these non-degree credentials. The results also show that in 2015, about 25 percent of those employed held an "active certification or license." Non-degree credentials are especially common among the health care and IT professions. 

The Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA) conducted background research and developed the questions for the CPS. GEMEnA has more information on the project, including working definitions of non-degree credentials and links to previous relevant federal surveys.

For more information on the CPS and results on non-degree credentials, visit the BLS webpage on Data on Certifications and Licenses.

Also see WDQC's resources on efforts to account for non-degree credentials: 

WDQC congratulates BLS and GEMEnA for making strides to account for more types of credentials. This work is especially important for revealing the labor market returns for credentials that might be earned on a shorter-term basis when compared to traditional degrees. We look forward to seeing more of these results in the future.