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Relative Advantages of Associate Degrees and Certificates

The study, “Pathways to Boosting the Earnings of Low-Income Students by Increasing Their Educational Attainment,” which was conducted by the research organization CNA and the Hudson Institute and financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, promulgated some findings that challenged the status quo, especially in suggesting that low-income students who struggle in high school get more of an earnings boost by earning a certificate than they do achieving an associate degree at a two-year college.
The experts who analyzed the Hudson study seemed most intrigued by the finding on certificates. Chester B. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said that to people like him “who tend to focus only on degrees,” the findings about the earnings value of community college certificates suggested “evidence that better information regarding postsecondary possibilities might boost the prospects of low-income students.”
But that finding also raised significant questions and cautions. Thomas Bailey, the George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education and director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University Teachers College, said it was unfair to compare recipients of certificates — which in many cases are a student’s ultimate educational goal — with those who’ve achieved associate degrees, particularly in fields such as the humanities.
Most students who end up with only an associate degree in English or comparable fields do so “either because they stumbled into it, didn’t know what they would do, were misinformed, or didn’t complete their goals,” Bailey said. “There is very little return to a student who has an English associate degree, and that’s it.” The pool of people who get associate degrees in non-technical fields and don’t go on to transfer to a four-year college, Bailey noted, is very small.
The article "Relative Advantages of Associate Degrees and Certificates" was published on January 22, 2009 in "In side Higher Ed"
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