It has long been clear that people seek ways to improve their skill sets and, in this labor market, set themselves apart with the qualifications that can match them to a good job and better earnings. However, to date, there has been relatively little data on just what the scope of credential attainment is in the United States and its value in the labor market. Credentials are not captured in traditional measures of educational attainments and reflect industry or specialized skills, licenses or certificates that are earned upon completion of a program of study, apprenticeship or on-the-job training.
This month the US Census Bureau released its first data on measuring alternative educational credentials. The findings are important for policymakers and workers alike.
First, roughly 1 in 4 Americans hold some type of alternative credential. Indeed, if the 11.2 million people with an alternative credential who had completed less than high school in regular education were counted as those with “more than high school”, there would be an almost 5 percent increase in the share of Americans with higher education and skills levels.
Second, credentials are valued in the labor market and deliver a particularly high earnings premium to those with less than a Bachelor’s degree.
Credentials have an important role to play in improving the earnings of workers and meeting the need for a skilled workforce in the labor market. Policies that support credential attainment by streamlining courses of study for adult basic education students and building strong career pathways in industries of high-growth are critical if North Carolina wants to ensure workers can make ends meet and the economy can thrive.