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Strada/Lumina Joint Report Reveals Professional Certifications Are Improving Job Prospects, but Gender Gaps Remain

By Henry Kronk
May 14, 2019

Bootcamps, microdegrees, competency-based training, certifications, and credentialing programs have grown a good deal in recent years. While some—including many current learners—believe and hope that they will provide a ladder to improved job prospects, others are wary they will be just another chapter in the long history of exploitative American for-profit education. A report released on May 14th, which analyzes data from the Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey, heavily supports the former. Americans who have a high school degree and a professional certification as their highest educational achievement enjoy a significantly larger average salary and have higher full-time employment rates compared to their peers who have no post-high school credential.

The report was compiled as a joint effort by the Strada Education Group and the Lumina Foundation. In total, 330,000 American adults aged 25-64 responded to the umbrella Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey. Of those, this report examined a group of just under 50,000 who had no postsecondary degrees and were not enrolled in college.

The Results of the Strada/Lumina Report on Professional Certifications

The report found that those with a professional certification had a full-time employment rate of 85%. Their high school graduate peers who had no certificate reported a 78% full-time employment.

Credential holders also earn more. Among the 50th median income quartile, professional certificate holders earned an average of $45,000, compared to $30,000 for high school grads. In other words, the average professional stands a good chance of paying off the cost of their $10,000 bootcamp in their first year of work.

“This new report shows that degreed higher education isn’t the only viable path into a good career,” said Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in a news release announcing the report. “Oftentimes short-term certificates and industry-based certifications get the job done quicker, better and cheaper.” 

But Credential Training Does Not Benefit Everyone Equally

While it appears that professional certifications represent a rising tide that is lifting all boats, some fleets are doing better than others.

It’s clear from the data that certificates improve job prospects among men to a greater degree than women. Among men, 83% of high school grads report full-time employment. That figure is 90% among certificate holders. With women, the split is 70%-78%. There are likely many other factors that need to be included to fully explain this phenomenon. One might argue that the data show that certificates give women a bigger bump than men in terms of total full-time employment rates. (They correlate with an 8% increase among women, and a 7% increase among men.) But the fact remains that non-credentialed male high school graduates still have higher full-time employment rates than credentialed women.

The gender gap also plays out with median personal income. For the middle 50th income quartiles, men with a credential earned $55,000 on average, compared to $36,000 for high school grads. With women, the former earned $32,000, while the latter earned $25,000.

Improvements Also Vary by Field of Work

When it comes to occupation, the means vary even further. While coding bootcamps have been taking up a huge amount of media oxygen in 2019, the certificates that translate into the highest earning premiums land in fields such as security and protective services, engineering, architecture, construction, and mining. Among these fields, a professional certification translated, on average, into a salary bump of $19,000. (Computer and mathematical certified workers also experienced an average salary increase of $19,000.)

As the authors write, “Some of these jobs are also among the top-paying in the country. Non-degree adults with a certificate or certification in architecture or engineering occupations have a median personal income of $85,000, which would place them in the 84th income percentile among all U.S. adults in 2017.”

The authors also note that these jobs happen to be typically male fields. Professional certifications in certain typically female fields of work, meanwhile, tend to bring about little to no job improvements. These include office and administrative support, education, training, and library services.

“As the country redesigns policy and works to improve and expand postsecondary education and training, it is critical that we talk to education consumers about their experiences and the value they get from different types of education,” said Carol D’Amico, Executive Vice President of Mission Advancement and Philanthropy at Strada Education Network. “Through this new research, we’re seeing that not only do short-term credentials and certificates deliver an immediate impact for adults looking to upskill, but they also have the potential to foster the sort of wage increases needed to sustain a family and power true social and economic mobility.”

 Featured Image: Robb Leahy, Unsplash.