The Value of Sub-baccalaureate Credentials

Mark S. Schneider

Access to reliable data will help students and their parents—as well as government policymakers—make informed educational decisions.

Technical apprenticeStudents, their families, and taxpayers invest in higher education for a variety of reasons. But one of the most-cited by students is that postsecondary education is an investment that leads to better jobs and higher wages. Through this lens, the return on investment (ROI) is central to discussions of the value of postsecondary education and the measurement of student success. Because ROI is driven by how much time and money students invest in attaining a credential, policymakers, students, and their families are paying increasing attention to the labor market success of students after gaining that end product. This is not surprising, because earnings are the “return” side of ROI calculations.

The costs of postsecondary education continue to escalate far faster than inflation. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the rate of tuition increases has been roughly twice the rate of inflation. Stories of the crushing burden associated with student debt continue to gain attention. And the failure of many students to launch adult lives and careers after earning bachelor’s degrees now attracts attention. Together, these issues have led many people to question the value of the bachelor’s degree, the most common postsecondary credential awarded in the United States.

In The Value of Sub-baccalaureate Credentials, from the journal Issues in Science and Technology, AIR Vice President and Institute Fellow Mark Schneider asks two critical questions: Do bachelor’s graduates earn enough to justify the time and money spent getting the degree? Are there more efficient ways to earn a postsecondary credential associated with middle-class earnings?