College certificates are cheaper post-secondary option

Career College Central Summary:

  • Two parked ambulances are the backdrop for life-saving lessons in a lab at Wayne County Community College District's Downriver Campus.
  • There, Sarah Ormerod, 34, is working toward becoming a certified Emergency Medical Technician. She expects to complete the course in December after having class twice a week over four months.
  • "EMT basic is a great course if you're considering a career in the health-care field, public health, emergency medicine," the Detroit woman said. "This is a good way to get sort of a bite-sized taste of it."
  • Ormerod is part of a growing number of adults who are turning to certificates rather than — or as a supplement to — college degrees.
  • Certificates recognize a completed course of study in a certain field. They're the fastest growing form of post-secondary credentials in the U.S., becoming the most common award after the high school degree, said Anthony Carnevale, a labor economist and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • He said certificates are an increasingly attractive option because they're affordable and don't take long to acquire. Many programs last a year or less compared with about four years for a bachelor's degree.
  • Popular fields of study include health care, business or office management, computer and information services, construction trades and electronics.
  • The "explosive" growth in certificate programs over the last two decades has been fueled largely by two-year colleges and private for-profit schools, Carnevale said. Certificate programs bring in additional revenue to schools and often are easier to add or update than traditional academic programs. Some universities also offer certificates.
  • Carnevale, who coauthored a 2012 study and report about certificate education in the U.S., said certificate holders on average earn 20% more than high school graduates without any post-secondary education.
  • But a certificate's value is strongly linked to being in the right field.
  • "If you get a technical certificate in computers or technology of any kind, like HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning), you'll tend to earn more. Probably 20 to 25% more than a person with a bachelor's degree (on average across all fields)," Carnevale said. "You can get a certificate in music appreciation, but it won't get you a job."

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