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Monitoring Non-Degree Credentials

A report released mid-January by the United States Census Bureau shed new light on the number and wage earnings of Americans holding alternative credentials such as certificates, professional certification and licenses.

Experts speculate that the information is likely to have an influence on policymaking, especially since the federal government has set a national completion target of 60 percent.

“Policy makers and researchers have begun to consider the role of these ‘alternative educational credentials’ in job placement, earnings, and career advancement,” states the report.

The report indicates that in 2012, 22 percent of Americans aged 18 and older held a professional certification or license and 9 percent held a certificate. In some cases, adults held a variety of alternative credentials.

Although those holding an alternative credential were more likely to hold an associate’s degree or higher, the report points out that more than 11 million Americans with a high school diploma or less held a professional certification or license in 2012.

“At a time when there is a growing emphasis on the need to obtain postsecondary educational experience … these 11.2 million people might be recategorized into the ‘more than high school’ category, representing a shift of almost 5 percent of the adult population,” states the report.

Adults holding an alternative credential without a postsecondary degree are also more likely to benefit from higher wage earnings compared to those without one.

“For those in the ‘some college’ category, there are ways they can get better labor market outcomes, even if they’re not ready to go the degree route,” Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst for the New America Foundation, told Inside Higher Ed.

The report is a steppingstone for future efforts that are intended to continuously monitor alternative credential attainment in the U.S. and its impact on individual earnings.