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More focus on occupational certificates.

Brian Bosworth's "Expanding Certificate Programs" (Issues, Fall 2011) shines light on an important and often neglected area of labor market preparation. According to the Survey on Income and Program Participation (SIPP), fully 18% of workers have a certificate from a business, vocational, trade, or technical postsecondary program, and a third of these people also have a two - or four-year degree. Of the 20% of associate degree graduates with a certificate, 65% got their certificate first, 7% got it at the same time they got their degree, and 28% got their certificate after getting their associate degree.

As Bosworth shows, certificates are particularly useful for hard-to-serve populations, such as minorities, low-income adults, and young people who didn't do well in high school. The advantages of these programs include being shorter, offering more-focused learning, and being flexibly scheduled. The programs can also adapt more quickly to changing market demand for specific skills and fields.

Like any education/training program, there is variation on economic returns depending on the field of study. We feel that there needs to be constant monitoring of earnings of graduates to ensure that students have the best information to align their interests and talents with occupations that are growing and that pay well. Another crucial factor is placement. In our analysis of SIPP data, certificate holders who are in occupations related to their training earn 35% more than those not working in their field.

Bosworth's presentation of strategies for success gives clear guidelines on how to structure programs to maximize student completion and transition to successful labor market outcomes. There is a lot of talk about the need for more postsecondary educational attainment. All too frequently, people view this as increasing our rate of bachelor's degree graduates. Although this is a reasonable goal, four-year degrees are not for everyone. The subbaccalaureate programs that result in two-year degrees and/or certificates are an important option for many students and need to be promoted just as much as bachelors programs.



Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

Washington, DC

Brian Bosworth's excellent article is an important contribution to the growing conversation about college completion and the labor market value of postsecondary credentials. He correctly points out that we have failed to recognize the value of certificate programs, particularly in high-value career fields with strong wages, which allow students to gain the credential and enter the workforce in a shorter period of time. This is a timely article as many states grapple with increasing the number of individuals holding some type of postsecondary credential.

Bosworth correctly argues that a certificate with good labor market value is the only ticket for certain populations to a good job and opportunity for a quality life. In Tennessee, as in many states, students come to institutions of higher education underprepared for collegiate work and also often have demands on their lives that prohibit full-time attendance in pursuit of the degree. Many adult students are unable to commit to four to six years of collegiate work in order to complete the degree.

A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce underlines the urgency for Tennessee. Between 2008 and 2018, new jobs in Tennessee requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 194,000, while jobs for high-school graduates and dropouts will grow by 145,000. Between 2008 and 2018, Tennessee will create 967,000 job vacancies representing both new jobs and openings due to retirement; 516,000 of these job vacancies will be for those with postsecondary credentials. Fifty-four percent of all jobs in Tennessee (1.8 million) will require some postsecondary training beyond high school in 2018. The need for Tennesseans with postsecondary credentials is great. Certificates offer a tremendous opportunity.


But, as Bosworth states, not just any certificate will suffice, and certainly not only those delivered in the traditional structure. He argues that how we deliver such certificate programming has an even greater chance of ensuring completion for those adults who are busy with life and have many demands on their time and resources. His recommendations of the use of block scheduling, embedded student support and remediation, and cohort-based models are a major step forward in understanding successful structures for the types of students in our postsecondary institutions today.

His call for action to make this happen at all levels is important. In Tennessee, recent legislation requires the use of block-scheduled, cohort programs in our community colleges as a means to increase the number of those credentialed to obtain employment. We are taking this a step further and focusing some of our work on increasing the number of certificates of a year or longer that are delivered via this strategy. We believe that the data over the next couple of years will support the success of this effort. Of course, students already are telling us that this approach provides the only way that they could ever attend college. That speaks volumes to my mind.


Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Tennessee Board of Regents

Nashville, Tennessee

Certificates that demonstrate significant occupation-related competencies and that are valued in the labor market are clearly an underdeveloped aspect of the college completion strategy. As Brian Bosworth points out, postsecondary certificate programs that are a year or longer in duration generally have good labor market payoff, and these longer-term certificates may be an important route to better employment and earnings for many Americans, particularly working adults and low-income and minority youth. Greater attention should certainly be paid by policymakers and opinion leaders to occupational certificates that can be completed fairly efficiently and that respond effectively to local employer needs.

But, as Bosworth notes, several pitfalls must be avoided. First, the goal cannot simply be more certificates: If states generate more short-term certificates requiring less than a year of training, few completers are likely to see any earnings gains. And the trends are troubling. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, in the past 20 years, community college awards of certificates of less than a year's duration rose by 459%, while awards of certificates of a year or more rose 121%.

Needless to say, if minority and low-income students disproportionately choose or are steered to certificates with less economic payoff, the result may be more completers but little economic value for the graduates or society. Again, the trends give reason for concern. From 1990 through 2010, the percentage increase in short-term credentials earned by minority community college students was almost more than two times that of whites for blacks (770% compared to 440%) and three times for Hispanics (1337% versus 440%).

One important policy implication is that states need to track certificate students more carefully, so they have a better idea of who is enrolling in and earning what certificates, and so the labor market outcomes for recipients of different occupational certificates are well documented,

Bosworth ends his article with recommendations for how community colleges can implement evidence-based career programs. The federal government's commitment of $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Assistance Commu-nitgy College Training Grants can give these programs a big boost.


Senior Vice President

Jobs for the Future


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Title Annotation:FORUM
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Geographic Code:1U6TN
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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