The Relative Returns to Credit- and Non-Credit-Bearing Credentials

While it is commonly understood that education is one of the most reliable paths to economic security—particularly for Black and Latinx people and for people from low-wealth families, it is less well-known that the greatest unmet labor market demand is for workers with “middle skills,” who have some post-high school training but not a 4-year degree. In the throes of an economic downturn, such as the current fallout associated with the coronavirus pandemic, people from all walks of life may pursue additional training in search of reemployment.

We analyzed 20 years of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 panel using an individual fixed-effects regression strategy to estimate the returns to noncredit-bearing credential and licensure pathways compared with credit-bearing credential and associate degree programs. This strategy provides estimates on the returns to training that are unrelated to individual-level, time-invariant factors such as differences in ability and motivation.

Key Findings

Our findings show that credit-bearing credentials yield an approximately equal likelihood to be employed as noncredit-bearing credentials, but significantly improved earnings of about $5,500 a year.

Image of analysis screenshotTo supplement the above analyses and examine the relative benefit of credit- and non-credit-bearing pathways for economic security in a recession era, we analyzed National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1997 data for these two groups over the last major economic disruption: the 2008 recession. With these analyses, we found no significant difference in benefit of credit- and non-credit-bearing attainment associated with employment or earnings from 2007 to 2010. This suggests that although credit-bearing credentials appear to return higher earnings overall, those improvements did not change during the 2008 recession.

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Image of Candace Hester
Principal Researcher
Principal Researcher