Survey Explores Non-Degree Credentials

by Rachel Zinn
January 17, 2014

One-fourth of adults in the U.S. had a non-degree credential in fall 2012, and full-time workers with these credentials have higher median earnings than those without, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.  

The report uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), administered regularly by Census to gather national information about education level, demographics and economic status. For the first time, SIPP included interview questions in 2012 about the prevalence and characteristics of certifications, licenses and educational certificates.

WDQC applauds federal efforts to measure the full range of credentials, not just those associated with traditional education pathways. The report supports WDQC’s contention that a variety of credentials are important in the labor market.

“Professional certifications and licenses were more common among the population with an associate’s degree or higher, and they are particularly concentrated at the master’s and professional degree levels,” the report said, noting that 45 percent of master’s degree holders and 68 percent of professional degree holders (e.g. lawyers, doctors) had a certification or license.

Both certifications and licenses are time-limited credentials awarded to people who demonstrate knowledge and skills for a particular job. Certifications are generally awarded by an industry association or other non-government entity, whereas licenses are given by government agencies.

Educational certificates, awarded by a school or training provider for completing a program of study, were more common among people with associate’s degrees than other educational levels. About 17 percent of associate’s degree holders have an educational certificate.

Adults with a high school degree or less were least likely to have any non-degree credential, but there were 11 million people with a certification or license who did not go to college. 

The data doesn’t prove that getting a non-degree credential will result in an increase in earnings. But it does suggest that on average, workers with non-degree credentials make more money than those without.

Among full-time workers, the median monthly earnings for someone with a professional certification or license was $4,167, compared with $3,433 for someone with an educational certificate, and $3,110 for people without any alternative credential.

“For two groups — those completing less than high school and professional degree holders — earnings returns were significantly enhanced when the individual also held a professional certification or license,” the report said.

The federal government, led by an interagency research team, plans to keep gathering survey data about non-degree credentials. The report says while it “represents one milestone in expanding our knowledge and implementation of an expanded definition of educational attainment, it is just the beginning”.


Click here to read more on this report from New America, a WDQC partner.