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Better than a bachelor's: Short-term certificate could lead to higher pay

Jul. 24, 2012 - 11:10AM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 24, 2012 - 11:10AM  |  
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Average earnings for certificate-holders in their fields:
Computer and information services: $70,400
Aviation: $65,642
Electronics: $61,668
Drafting: $59,592
Police/protective services: $55,499
Refrigeration/heating/air conditioning: $53,850
Construction trades: $50,989
Agriculture/forestry/horticulture: $47,800
Auto mechanics: $45,586
Metalworking: $45,040
Transportation and materials moving: $44,336
Business/office management: $40,000
Healthcare: $30,577
Cosmetology: $25,217
Food service: $17,600
Source: survey of income and program participation

A new study finds certificates awarded through short-term vocational training programs can reap a bigger payoff than a bachelor's degree.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It's more true for men than women. And technology fields are more lucrative than, say, cosmetology. But generally, short-term degree programs that focus on specific occupations can be "the fastest, cheapest way to get a job that pays," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The center's analysis confirms that average earnings for U.S. workers increase as their level of education rises. On average, workers who hold a certificate earned 20 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma. But certificate-holders earned more than some workers holding bachelor's degrees:

Male certificate-holders draw higher pay than 40 percent of men with associate degrees and 24 percent of men with bachelor's degrees. Female certificate-holders are paid higher than 34 percent of women with associate degrees and 24 percent of women with bachelor's degrees.

Men with certain certificates fare even better. Those with certificates in electronics earn more than 65 percent of male associate-degree holders and more than 48 percent of male bachelor's-degree holders. And men with certificates in computer and information services earn more than 65 percent of men with associate degrees and more than 44 percent of men with bachelor's degrees.

About a third of certificate-holders eventually earn either an associate or bachelor's degree, the study shows. It also suggests more employers are placing a higher value on short-term credentials, said Jonathan Robe, spokesman for the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity. "My takeaway was there are a lot of students who are looking for alternatives to traditional college education," he said.

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