This report examines the labor-market value of associate’s degrees and certificate programs, finding that field of study especially influences future earnings for these programs since they are tightly linked with specific occupations. 

The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees: What Students Need to Know Before They Go to College also reveals that the combined number of certificates and associate’s degrees awarded by colleges is similar to the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded—around 2 million per year—with certificates and associate’s degrees each accounting for about 1 million.

Certificate and associate's degree programs are linked strongly to careers—about 94% of certificates and 57% of associate's degrees are career-oriented. The enrollment trends by program type and the demographics of those enrolled show that more students are enrolled in certificate and associate's degree programs than in bachelor's degree programs, and that students in these programs are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. 

Key Findings: 

  • About 50% of postsecondary students taking undergraduate coursework are enrolled in certificate and associate's degree programs, 47% are enrolled in bachelor's degree programs, and 3% are taking coursework but are not enrolled in a certificate or degree program. 
  • Workers with associate's degrees in engineering have median earnings that are roughly twice as high (between $50,001 and $60,000) as those of workers with associate's degrees in education and the arts (between $20,001 and $30,000). 
  • Workers with certificates in engineering technologies have median earnings between $75,001 and $150,000, easily outpacing those with certificates in cosmetology and education, who earn between $10,001 and $20,000. 
  • Latino students are more concentrated in certificate and associate's degree programs (62%) than in bachelor's degree programs (38%), with the same applying for Blacks (56% and 44%, respectively), whereas Whites are more concentrated in bachelor's degree programs (53%) than in certificate or associate's degree programs (47%).