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A Bright Spot in Higher Ed

Students looking for options beyond the two- or four-year college path should consider certificate programs, which community colleges are offering in higher numbers and in many specialties. The WSJ reports:

[C]ertificate programs not only cost less on average than a year at college but they also bring higher salaries than those received by job candidates with high-school diplomas. The programs can typically last a few months to two years and range from cosmetology to aircraft mechanics….

Certificate programs are the fastest-growing segment of higher education, drawing younger and older students alike. From 2001 to 2011, the number of certificates of one year or less awarded by public community colleges more than doubled to about 249,000 from about 106,000, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Certificate programs are not without a downside. The average annual cost of a certificate program at a for-profit college is $19,635. Median salaries for certificate holders vary widely by profession, so someone with food-services certificate, for example, won’t be getting a good deal. 

Even so, earning a certificate can be an effective gateway to employment, and the growth of such programs is a good sign. While earning a bachelor’s degree is still the best financial decision in terms of lifetime earnings, we need more alternatives as the rising cost of tuition puts that option out of reach for many people. A higher education system that puts students at its center would offer more cheap routes to job readiness—and fewer vain, empty, and expensive BA programs.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “While earning a bachelor’s degree is still the best financial decision in terms of lifetime earnings . . .”
    This statement is refuted by graduation rates, debt upon graduation and increasing under-employment.
    What’s needed is a way to separate those who will actally benefit from a baccalaureate degree from those who would, literally, be better off in “trade school”. The advent of on-line education provides a path to greatly reducing the cost of certification, but appears to be largely focused on degrees. This doesn’t make sense.

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