Demand for Certificates Booms As Federal Aid Dwindles

By Catherine Groux
Posted March 20, 2013 11:00 AM

Federal aid is often scarce for people who want to earn certificates.
Federal aid is often scarce for people who want to earn certificates.

Approximately 22% of all postsecondary credentials earned are certificates, making them the fastest-growing type of credential in the U.S., a June 2012 report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce states. In a difficult economy, certificates have proven to be a quick and convenient way for adults to update their skills, giving them the chance to find more job opportunities and earn higher salaries. However, despite the many benefits of earning a certificate, The New York Times reports that federal aid is often scarce for individuals who want to earn these postsecondary credentials.

A Lack of Funding

Many educators are concerned that students who wish to pursue certificates do not have access to the federal financial aid they need to do so. Typically, most federal aid goes to students enrolled in associate's and bachelor's degree programs, leaving little left for those who want to update their skills with a certificate, the Times states.

Currently, many certificate programs, including those needed to be a nurse's aide or HVAC technician, are not for credit. This can put students in a bind, as federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, are only given to individuals who enroll in for-credit courses. Suri Duitch, dean of continuing education at the City University of New York, told the Times that this makes earning a certificate difficult for many students.

"These programs are less expensive than the degree programs at many four-year schools, but this student population generally has fewer resources," Duitch said. "It's not hard to find examples of people who had to drop out of such certificate programs for financial reasons."

The Demand for Advanced Skills, Higher Salaries

Many educators are striving to make certificate programs more affordable for students because they understand how crucial they can be in landing a better job and earning a bigger paycheck. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, people who earn certificates tend to make 20% more than individuals with only a high school diploma.

Additionally, certificates frequently act as a stepping stone to more advanced education. The Georgetown report states that 20% of certificate holders go on to earn an associate's degree, while 13% earn a bachelor's degree. Ultimately, this can lead to even more advanced job offers and higher salaries. In a challenging economy, these factors can prove crucial for millions of Americans.

"There's an estimated 80 million people out there in the workforce who could benefit from coming back and gaining some form of postsecondary credential," James L. Applegate, vice president for program development at the Lumina Foundation, told the Times. "A lot of them are interested in workforce-aligned credentials."

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