Certificate earner rates hit 10-year high despite degree fall-off in 2022-23

Certificate-earning rates were positive among white, Black and Hispanic men; their increased completion rates were even higher for first-time completers.

Undergraduate credentials awarded in the 2022–23 academic year have fallen for the second year in a row. The rate of bachelor’s degree earners fell to 2015-16 levels and associate degree earnings are a decade-low, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. However, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. Short-term certificates have become a darling among young first-time credential earners.

Last academic year saw a greater number of students receiving certificates than in any of the past ten years. First-time credential earners are squarely responsible for their popularity, boosting the certificate-earned rate by 6.2% and 13.1% over the past two years. First-time earners are younger: Students under 24 anchored the growth, with half of all growth experienced in ’22-23 in the 18-20-year-old range followed by under 18-year-olds and 21- to 24-year-olds.

A breakdown in student demographics illustrates that their popularity isn’t tied to one gender or ethnicity. While male credential earning was down 2.4% across all credential types, their certificate earning was up 3.7%. Furthermore, certificate-earning rates were positive among white, Black and Hispanic men; their increased completion rates were even higher for first-time completers.

The most popular certificates for first-time completers and those with a prior award are “health professions and related clinical sciences” and “business, management, marketing and related support.” Together, they accounted for nearly 190,000 completers. Three major fields certificate fields to experience the highest year-over-year increases were “personal and culinary services,” (22.9%) “precision production” (11.3%) and “computer and information sciences and support services” (10.8%).

“I think the growth in vocational programs is contributing to the number of first-time credentials and even stacked certificates,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the Clearinghouse Research Center.

However, there is one major concern about certificates in this report. While certificate earnings for first-time completers reached impressive levels, evidence suggests that students with prior credentials weren’t as interested in certificates. For example, the rate of bachelor’s/master’s degree holders returning to earn a certificate declined following a two-year increase. Likewise, this academic year marks the first time in five years that the flow of students with a certificate earning an associate degree declined.

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Degree earner woes

While the flow of credential earning from certificates to associate degrees has hit a pothole, so have associate degrees to bachelor’s degrees. The rate of students with an associate degree earning a bachelor’s fell 3.3%, or about 14,000 students. Furthermore, as popular as certificates are among 18- to 20-year-old first-time credential earners, first-time associate completers in this age cohort experienced their first significant decline (about 10,000 students) following years of growth.

Among first-time completers and those who’ve already earned a credential, Rhode Island, Utah, and South Carolina are the only states to see an increase in bachelor’s degree earners. D.C. also had a positive rate of bachelor’s earners at 1%.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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