How valuable are certificates and associate degrees?

Black and Latino students remain overrepresented in certificate and associate degree programs
By: | January 28, 2020
A new study sheds more light on the earning potential of associate degree and certificate holders, such as these 2015 graduates of Maryland's Howard Community College.A new study sheds more light on the earning potential of associate degree and certificate holders, such as these 2015 graduates of Maryland's Howard Community College.

The future earnings of associate degree and certificate holders are tightly linked with certains field of study and specific occupations, according to a new report, “The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees,” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Also, colleges award about the same number of certificates and associate degrees as bachelor’s degrees—around 2 million per year, the study found. About 94% of certificates and 57% of associate degrees are career-oriented.

“Field of study matters most when it comes to certificates and associate’s degrees,” Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author and the Center’s director, said in a news release. “A worker with an associate’s degree can earn more than a worker with a bachelor’s degree, and shorter-term credentials like certificates and certifications can out-earn associate’s degrees.”

For example, graduates with associate degrees in engineering earn between $50,001 and $60,000 per year, compared to workers with a bachelor’s degree in education, who earn between $30,001 and $40,000 annually. Workers with certificates in construction trades and other blue-collar fields earn the same as graduates with bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and humanities —between $40,001 and $50,000.


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The study also found that black and Latino students are more concentrated in certificate and associate degree programs (56% and 62%, respectively) than in bachelor’s degree programs (44% and 38%, respectively). The reverse is true for white students.

“Even though blacks and Latinos are earning postsecondary credentials at higher rates today, the fact that they are obtaining lower levels of postsecondary attainment than whites means we have a lot of work to do to close equity gaps,” Tanya I. Garcia, co-author of the report and a senior fellow at the Center, said the news release.

Degrees of etiquette

Another increasingly common way colleges and universities prepare graduates for the workforce is by offering business etiquette training in campus career centers, University Business reported in July.


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Etiquette is often misunderstood and mistaken for stuffy or artificial, Diane Gottsman, a Texas-based etiquette expert, told UB. “For students, it’s about learning how to build relationships so they can go out and set themselves apart in interviews.”

For one thing, this means teaching students when to put their phones down. A generation that always has a screen in hand may not realize that walking into an interview while on the phone is rude, Gottsman added

Today’s students also need training in online behavior. “We tell students to have fun with their social media accounts but to be very aware that potential employers can and will look at them,” James Westhoff, director of career services at Husson University in Maine, told UB. The university offers LinkedIn workshops to students.

Husson also offers an annual etiquette dinner—a five-course meal where one or two professionals sit at each table and chat with students, who also watch a presentation on dining, silverware and social etiquette

“It’s so important to remember that the majority of [undergrads] haven’t been through the process before. It’s our duty to show them how to be professional with every step,” he says.


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