Certified Value

When do Adults without Degrees Benefit from Earning Certificates and Certifications?

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A postsecondary degree is not the only pathway to prosperity. As automation and technological advances transform the economy, policymakers, employers, educators, and learners themselves increasingly recognize the potential of non-degree certificates and professional certifications to help meet the demand for new skills. Strada and Lumina have partnered to better understand the educational and work experiences of adults without degrees and how we might provide greater economic mobility for them and their families.

Key Findings

Adults without a postsecondary degree who hold a certificate or certification:

Perceive their education path as more valuable and are more likely to recommend it to others than are those with no credential.


Have higher full-time employment rates than their peers with no credential (85 percent versus 78 percent).


Have a median annual income of $45,000, versus $30,000 for those without a credential.

These findings indicated that certificates and certifications can serve as a beneficial stand-alone credential. However, there are important variations by occupation and gender that demand serious attention as we develop and deliver valuable education opportunities beyond high school.

Certificate/certification holders see increased job market value in their education. Among adults without a degree, 60 percent of those with a certificate or certification perceive their educational experience to be valuable to potential employers, compared to only 44 percent of those without a certificate or certification. This difference in perceived marketability holds across all demographic groups, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, and personal income level.

Non-degree adults who have a certificate or certification are also more inclined to recommend their education path to others. Two-thirds agree or strongly agree that they would recommend their education path to others like them, compared to only about half of those without a certificate or certification. In fact, certificate holders are more likely to recommend their path across all major demographic groups, including gender, age, race/ethnicity and income.

Educational attainment among adults ages 25-64. (Source: Lumina Foundation, A Stronger Nation.)

The perceived labor market value of certificates/certifications is well-founded. Among adults without a postsecondary degree, the full-time employment rate for certificate/certification holdes is 7 percentage points higher than for those without a certificate or certification. While men have higher employment rates than women overall, the employment boost from certificates/certifications holds for both men and women.

Among adults without a postsecondary degree, certificat/certification holders enjoy an income premium compared to those who do not hold a certificate of certification. This income advantage exists at the top and bottom of the income distribution as well.

The income premium employed by non-degree adults who hold a certificate or certification is considerably larger for men than it is for women. While overall men earn higher salaries than women among this non-degree population, on average the income premium for men with a certificate or certification is over twice as large as it is for women.

The income premium experience by non-degree adults who hold a certificate or certification varies across occupations. For some occupations the premium is as high as $25,000, but for other occupations there is little to no apparent economic advantage to having a certificate or certification.

When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.

Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.


Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials.

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