Community College Occupational Degrees: Are They Worth It?

Bailey, Thomas R.; Belfield, Clive

While more than 60% of associate degrees and 98% of higher education certificates are classified as “career education,” the value of these programs has been repeatedly questioned. In this paper, we review and develop the evidence base on occupational higher education in the community college sector. We begin by describing the extent and recent growth of occupational credentials, including diplomas and certificates, both in the community college system and the for-profit sector. We then review the evidence on the labor market returns to occupational programs, focusing particularly on whether patterns vary between metropolitan and non-metropolitan residents and by gender. Using SIPP data from 2008, we observe the returns across vocational certificates and associate degrees by field of study. Finally, we draw policy lessons and consider the implications of the Great Recession on changes in the labor market.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
March 28, 2014