A closer look at non-degree credentials


Interest in nondegree credentials has been growing among learners and employers over the past few years, but it has especially grown during the pandemic and now post-Covid workforce world. A new report by the Strada Education Network examines how learners are blending degrees and nondegree credentials.  

Some of the information gathered from a national survey of nearly 14,000 adults for the report illustrates the significant role such micro-credential programs play in higher education, whether through short-term technical education training programs or professional licenses or certifications. For instance, the report noted that nearly as many Americans have completed a nondegree education or training program as degree programs (40% compared to 46%, respectively). Also, about 20% of adults reported a nondegree credential or program as their highest level of education, compared to 10% who reported an associate degree as their highest level.

Many of the non-degree credentials complement or supplement a degree or training an individual already has, according to the Strada report. For example, about half of associate and bachelor’s degree holders said they also have completed some kind of non-degree program or credential.

Of non-degree credentials, professional licenses and certifications are more common than education certificates (30% compared to 19%), and individuals tend to combine different kinds of non-degree programs. About 25% of adults with a nondegree credential have both an education certification and a professional degree or certification.

Myriad providers

The types of institutions that offer non-degree credentials are diverse — community colleges, universities, vocational/technical colleges, professional associations, government, businesses and more. No single type of institution awards more than 20% of nondegree credentials, the report said. However, community colleges consistently received the highest alumni rating across three metrics measured.

“Seventy-eight percent of those with a nondegree credential from a community college said it was worth the cost; 67 percent said it made them an attractive candidate for jobs; and 61 percent said it helped them achieve their goals,” the report said.

Nondegree credential holders who received their credential from a vocational or technical college also rated their education highly. Non-degree credentials from individual businesses or companies and professional associations received the lowest quality and value ratings.  

A confidence boost

Strada also found that individuals with degrees — especially those with associate degrees — felt their non-degree credential gave them a lift in reaching their goals and being a more attractive job candidate. While 43% of adults with only an associate degree said their education made them an attractive candidate for jobs, 70% of those with an associate degree and non-degree credential said the same, the report said.

However, that credential on top of a degree didn’t necessarily mean higher earnings, according to the report. Nondegree premiums associated with earnings and job satisfaction rates were marginal for adults with college degrees, especially among those with a baccalaureate. For those with associate degrees, the extra credential earned them about $5,000 more annually than those without a non-degree credential.

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