Not Just Degrees

The certificate is the odd man out in the debate over college completion. But the rarely discussed and little-understood certificate is the fastest-growing form of college credential, and a key component of work force development and the “completion agenda.”

Those were among the findings of a new report, released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, that found that certificates make up 22 percent of all college awards, up from 6 percent in 1980.

“We’ve added a couple rungs to the ladder,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the center’s director and one of the report’s three co-authors, adding that the emergence of the certificate is an “evolution of the system.”

Carnevale is a labor economist whose research has been a key underpinning of the college completion push. He said growth in the earning of certificates has largely been driven by the labor market, as more jobs require college-based training. “It’s something that’s emerged from the bottom up.”

Certificates are earned through seat time in a classroom, the study notes, with more than half taking less than a year to complete. Industry-based certifications, which are often confused with certificates, are typically awarded based on tests.

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