Adults strongly interested in short-term credentials


Adults without a college degree continue to express high interest in earning a postsecondary credential, driven in part by a rising interest in industry certification programs, according to an annual report by Lumina Foundation and Gallup.

Nearly six in 10 unenrolled adults surveyed said they have considered enrolling in additional education in the past two years, an increase of 15 percentage points from 2021, according to the report. Half of unenrolled adults said they are likely to pursue a credential in the next five years.

The findings are based on a survey of 6,015 students ages 18 to 59 who are currently enrolled in a postsecondary education program, 5,012 adults who were previously enrolled in a postsecondary program but had not completed an associate or bachelor’s degree, and 3,005 adults who had never enrolled in a postsecondary program. Of the currently enrolled students, 1,468 are pursuing an associate degree, 1,373 are seeking a certificate and 642 are aiming for an industry credential.

What they value

When asked to rate a list of degrees/credentials, bachelor’s and graduate degrees were cited as most valuable. Still, industry certifications also were highly regarded by 74% of adults without degrees, according to the report. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said certificates were extremely valuable or very valuable, with 60% saying the same about associate degrees.

Industry certifications were seen as particularly valuable among those who stopped out: 82% rated them as extremely valuable or very valuable. Currently enrolled students also gave industry certifications a high rating (78%). Associate degrees garnered the lowest perception of value among all three categories of surveyed students (currently enrolled, stopped out and never enrolled).

However, certificates and associate degrees were the most frequently considered programs, which the report noted may result from students prioritizing the lower cost associated with those programs. Among adults not enrolled, 23% said they considered pursuing a certificate in the past two years, 22% said an associate degree, 19% said an industry certification and 17% said a baccalaureate.

Traditional and new barriers

While the primary barriers to enrollment continue to be cost and lack of financial aid, prospective students are increasingly considering other factors, such as flexibility of course delivery, especially among nontraditional learners and those who were previously enrolled but stopped out before completing their credential.

“This heightened interest is partially driven by an increasing openness to alternative pathways, such as industry credentials, and a continued belief that a degree or credential will increase an individual’s salary, chances of promotion and competitiveness in the job market,” the report said. “Many prospective students are also searching for flexible programs in the form of remote instruction, schedules more conducive to working learners and expedited time to complete.”

The report added that the growing belief that credentials are unnecessary to land a good career is also a barrier.

On the cusp of stopping out

The report continued that more than one-third of currently enrolled students have considered stopping out within the last six months, with emotional stress or mental health concerns (64%) noted as top reasons. These two reasons are more than twice the percentage of those who say the cost of the program is what may cause them to stop out, the report added.

Among currently enrolled students, 43% of students in certificates and 40% of those in associate degree programs said it was difficult to very difficult for them to remain in their programs, followed by 39% of students in industry certification programs and 37% in bachelor’s degree programs.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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