Middle Skills Emerging as the Big Prize in Higher Ed
What presidents should know about the growing popularity of associate degree and certificate programs
According to the latest report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, entitled The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees: What Students Need to Know Before They Go to College, certificates and associate’s degrees were awarded by institutions at the same rate as bachelor degrees, with half of students taking undergraduate coursework doing so while enrolled in associate’s degrees and certificate programs. Though the “middle skills” arena is still relatively unfamiliar to many students pursuing higher education, the report identifies several key factors that give insight into the rising popularity and success of associate programs and certificates:
- Associate’s degrees and certificates are often available within two years from state and community colleges, with lower tuition costs than four-year colleges, and they feed directly into the workforce by building career-specific skills and knowledge. This is appealing to students who want or need a quicker route to launching their careers.
- Georgetown University’s study maintains that the most lucrative associate’s degrees and certificates are within the fields of STEM, healthcare, and consumer services. Those with associate’s degrees in engineering are on average out-earning students with bachelor’s degrees in the humanities by sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per year.
- Companies such as Google, Amazon, ExxonMobil, and BNSF are engaging in partnerships with community colleges to develop workforce-ready programs for students looking to get started immediately in their careers. These programs provide training and career guidance for work in specific fields, while the curriculum is consistently evaluated to ensure success for students beyond their coursework. These programs have proven successful, with instances of more than 80 percent of students who complete certain programs finding employment in their community.
This report may provide guidance to higher education institutions to evaluate how effectively their degree programs prepare students for future employment and consider whether adjustments to curricula, as well as innovative methodologies, are warranted to teach the skills required in a competitive workforce.