Open Menu Close Menu


Earning a Community College Certificate in Oregon Can Double Pay of Young People

Graph: Certificate holders aged 29 and younger enjoy the largest earning gains.

Certificate holders aged 29 and younger enjoy the largest earning gains. Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Young people who earn a certificate from a community college in the state of Oregon can, in some cases, double their pay. A new research project from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that finishing a community college certificate boosted the earnings of workers ages 24 and younger by about $21,000 a year. And workers ages 24 to 29 added about $16,000 for their achievement.

Overall earnings of a worker of any age went up by nearly $5,000, a 19 percent jump compared to their previous incomes. Four years prior to earning a certificate, for example, the median annual wage was $25,500, which dropped to $10,900 as the certificate was being completed, then rose to $30,300 four years after the certificate was achieved.

The gains looked different for certificate holders age 45 or older, however. These older workers, many of whom were laid off and pursued a credential to regain their footing in the job market or wanted to upgrade their skills, started with a median income of $36,200 four years before tackling a certificate program, and ended with a median income of $32,300 four years after completion.

Graph: Certificate holders ages 45 and older see a sharp decline in earnings followed by a gradual recovery.

Certificate holders ages 45 and older see a sharp decline in earnings followed by a gradual recovery. Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

According to "Certificates in Oregon: A Model for Workers to Jump-Start or Reboot Careers," younger and older certificate holders tend to pursue different types of programs. People who are 30 or older choose short-term certificate programs (less than a year) that will inject them back into the job as quickly as possible. Those who are younger concentrate on medium and long-term programs (from a year in length to two years or longer).

The researchers chose to focus on Oregon for a couple of reasons. First, in 2007 the state introduced a short-term certificate initiative called the "Career Pathway Certificate of Completion," designed to prepare students for an entry-level job and to be "stackable" — that is, to provide a middle step on the way to an associate degree. Second, Oregon became one of the first states to set an education attainment goal for its residents, which it calls "40-40-20." By 2025, 40 percent of Oregonians will have a bachelor's degree; 40 percent will have an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate "with labor market value"; and the remaining 20 percent will have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Currently, 19 percent of Oregon young adults — those 25 to 34 — have earned the two-year degree or a career certificate.

Not surprisingly, the research found that earnings vary by field of study and gender. People who enter technical and some blue-collar fields do far better than those entering food service or cosmetology. Those who go into business do the best, with median earnings of $40,000. Yet, those who enter the health fields "experience the most dramatic earnings growth," the report noted. Pre-certificate the median annual wage was $17,500 for these individuals; after earning the certificate, that rose to $28,000. The researchers explained that the pre-certificate earnings reflect the "number of hours" worked by certificate holders and their wage level before they enter their programs, suggesting that health certificates "serve as an entry-level workforce credential, particularly for those who start out with low earnings and limited work experience."

Men earn more after finishing certificates than women, because they're likely to pursue different fields. Men are drawn to STEM fields as well as manufacturing, industrial arts and construction; women go after health certificates and credentials in consumer and public services. However, women benefit from larger earning gains, the report stated, rising from $18,500 pre-certificate to $27,500 post-certificate, compared to $33,300 pre-certificate for men and $34,800 post-certificate. As the report pointed out, "the gap starts out at nearly $15,000" and closes at just over $7,000.

"The power of certificates with demonstrated labor market value should not be overlooked," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the report, in a prepared statement. "The state-level data show that workers who invest in certificate programs carefully can experience meaningful earnings increases following completion."

The report is openly available on the Georgetown website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

comments powered by Disqus