Published on 2013/11/19
AUDIO | Certificates and Certifications Making the Difference
Certifications are not receiving the same recognition as certificates when it comes to supporting workforce success, but they should be brought into the fold.

The following interview is with Stephen Rose, professor and senior economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Rose was instrumental in producing the Center’s paper on the importance of certificates in the present and future workforce. In this interview Rose shares his thoughts on the value of certificates and their relative importance to workforce success compared to traditional degrees and discusses the importance of such programs for prospective students who would otherwise not be able to enter into a degree program.

Click here to read key takeaways

1. The importance of achieving a 60 percent degree completion rate for the health of the economy has been promoted by groups ranging from the Lumina Foundation to the federal government. In your opinion, what benefits does a degree-holder gain when it comes to finding work?

There are many benefits. In the economy that we’re in now, and certainly the economy of the future, if someone is going to want to get middle-class wages, they really need some postsecondary education. Certificates are the first rung in postsecondary education and the most occupationally-oriented; such that students can go through a program, usually in about one year, and will have gained a lot of skills in a very specific field.

2. Are there any benefits that a degree holder can gain that a certificate holder won’t?

Sure. Two-year degrees are twice the time in school and often they are occupationally-oriented as well. A four-year degree obviously puts you in the position of having completed a lot of tasks; oftentimes the major that you’re in is connected to a specific field, such that if you were to major in business or education the linkage is quite tight. But even people who major in the humanities tend to end up in business jobs.

The people with degrees have wide-ranging skills and therefore can usually bring them in a lot of different situations, whereas certificate holders tend to be more narrowly skilled and if they don’t get employed in a job related to those skills, they don’t get that much bump for that from their attendance in the certificate program.

3. When looking at an individual’s capacity for success in the labor market, would they be better off earning a degree or a certificate?

In an ideal world, obviously people with graduate degrees make the most. So, one might start from that and say, “Well, everyone should get a graduate degree.” And, that’s not feasible and the programs couldn’t really ramp up that much.  And people who have bad experiences in schools are not likely able to do that. It’s very important to understand how people come out of a K-12 system because the system in the United States is very unequal and a lot of people are coming out with very low skills.

Those low skills mean that if they try to get a two- or four-year degree, let alone a graduate degree, their chances of success are very low. So, a certificate is a great program for high school graduates in the middle to below-middle of the skill level. These are people that can tremendously benefit from this, especially if they get a job in-field. And they can potentially turn this success that they’d had in the certificate program to then getting a degree. A third of the people who get a certificate will go on to get a two- or four-year degree. Some people will get a certificate after they get a two- or four-year degree, so it’s flexible in that regard.

[Certificates] can lead to more education and it can lead to training for people that want to use this as a terminal postsecondary option.

4. Should the completion of industry certificates be integrated or recognized as part of the push for a 60 percent completion rate?

Yes and they are. Lumina … have indeed included certificates as part of the 60 percent goal. What I did for Lumina, and what they’ve used, is talking about good certificates.

These are certificates where people have a job in field and the field pays them according to their skills, such that a certificate holder … working in an occupation related to their training will make the same as a two-year degree holder.

5. Do you have anything to add about the value of industry-specific certificates when it comes to strengthening the workforce and improving an individual’s opportunities for success in the labor market?

There’s a whole other branch that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, and that’s certifications. Certifications are different from certificates in the sense that they are test-based. Some of the certifications are very occupationally-oriented; so if you go into a service station, if you want to get your car fixed, you’ll see little placards up on the board, ASE, Automotive Safety Excellence. So, you’ll see people there that have, often times, multiple certifications, “I do breaks, I do this kind of car system.”

And then of course there are high-end certifications, like “I’m qualified in this Cisco Machine.” This is another area that more and more employers want to see something that demonstrates some gain in skill. We’re learning more about this now, we have many certifications; oftentimes people can have multiple ones.

The notion of licensures, certifications, certificates, degrees are all the way forward in the future.

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Key Takeaways

  • Certificates and certifications can be as valuable to an individual’s workforce success as a degree; it depends on the student

  • The Lumina completion rate and federal government attainment rate both take into account certificate completions, but not certification completions

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2013/11/19 at 7:21 am

I never thought about certificates as being the first rung to higher ed for people who would otherwise never have enrolled. We think about community colleges and AA’s in that role, but forget there are a number of people who would even struggle to earn their two-year degree.

    Madison Riley 2013/11/20 at 2:14 am

    Absolutely! Given their importance for the workforce, I wonder why there isn’t more focus on investing heavily in creating more cerficiate programs aimed at lower-income, underserved groups?

Heather Willis 2013/11/19 at 1:52 pm

The certifications point is one that really flies under the radar in this interview, but is probably the most important idea that was raised. Certifications provide individuals expertise in a particular area that, in many cases, can be practiced across industries. They’re like badges, but more official. Maybe certifications should be included in the attainment rate?

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