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Promoting Certificate Programs in College-Completion Push

While the push for college completion often focuses on two- or four-year degrees, a new report suggests that higher education needs to do a better job of catering to students who want to pursue a certificate program if the country is going to meet its postsecondary graduation-rate goals.

The report, Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-Baccalaureate Certificates, released today by Complete College America provides profiles of certificate production for all 50 states and policy recommendations to improve access and completion.

Certificate programs are practical, but often underutilized, according to the report.They are valuable to building a skilled workforce and boosting wages, while appealing to many students who want a faster path toward training and careers.

A little more than half of students earn certificate programs at community colleges, while four in 10 are awarded by for-profit schools, according to the report. The quality and value of programs vary widely. Research shows that students who complete certificate programs, specifically those that take more than one year, can make the same income as those with an associate degree. Particularly lucrative are programs in the health-care field, which make up 43 percent of all certificates.

The report calls for a national effort to double the number of long-term certificates produced within the next five years, and then double that number again over the subsequent five years.

To do that, the report proposes:

&bull Counting certificates in attainment goals and adopting a consistent definition.

&bull Setting aggressive goals for long-term certificate production and providing support to colleges to meet them.

&bull Supporting and rewarding certificate programs of one year or more and discouraging shorter-term programs that lack significant labor-market payoffs.

&bull Improving collection and analysis of data to be sure programs are aligned with labor-market needs.

&bull Increasing focus on certificate completion rates and improving alignment between certificate programs and associate degree programs.

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