Certificate holders can earn more than degree holders, at least in Texas

April 29, 2013
Getting a skill certificate can get you more pay than a degree from a two or four-year institution, according to a new study done in Texas.

If you are in a hurry, you might be better off going to a community college and picking up a certificate in a technical discipline rather than spending two years getting an associates degree.

That is one of the conclusions you might reach from a recent report called Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities. It was prepared by College Measures, a joint venture of American Institutes for Research and the Matrix Knowledge Group, both behavioral and social science research organizations. The report looks at the first-year earnings of recent graduates from two- and four-year public institutions who working across Texas one year after obtaining their degree or certificate.

The interesting thing about the report is that trends that hold true in Texas probably are equally valid for the rest of the country. And certificates are one of the fastest-growing credentials that community colleges offer. The report found that the median first-year earnings of certificate holders often exceeds those of graduates from academic and technical associate’s programs. For example, the median first-year earnings of certificate holders in Business Administration/Management ($36,987) exceed those with academic associate’s degrees in the same field of study by $11,000, the report found. In criminal justice/police sciences, the median first-year earnings of certificate holders ($48,230) exceed academic associate’s degree holders in criminal justice by more than $24,000 and those with a technical associate’s degree by about $11,500.

But the trend isn't true universally. Graduates with technical associate’s degrees in Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse programs earn close to $50,000 more than new certificate holders in the same field of study ($68,059 vs. $19,729), the report finds.

And some technical disciplines just don't pay well, regardless of whether you hold a certificate or a degree. The report says that biology graduates at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels earn below the Texas-wide medians for each degree type. Those with bachelor’s earn $26,430 compared with the statewide median of $39,725 for all graduates. A master’s in biology earns $39,980 compared with the statewide median of $63,537 for all master’s graduates.

In contrast, bachelor’s graduates in mathematics out-earn biology graduates by more than $20,000 Texas-wide and all bachelor’s graduates by more than $9,000.

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