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Michael Morris

10 must-know facts about nondegree credentials

Stephanie King

— May 11, 2022

Nondegree credentials aren’t new, but we still have a lot to learn about them and how to increase their efficacy and help people live a life of their choosing. Michael Morris, Ph.D., Vice President at Strada Education Network, joined us at ShapingEDU’s Spotlight Mini-Summit: Emerging Credentials x Future Employment to share the organization’s work in nondegree credentials. 

Strada Education Network is a social impact nonprofit that works to better connect education to work. They take an equity-first lens to advancing career-focused, nondegree credentials and learning as effective tools that individuals can use to attain economic mobility and personal fulfillment. Strada is focused specifically on solutions that better serve those who face the greatest barriers.

Morris’ inspiration for his work? His seven adoptive children that he raises with his wife. “As I think about the world that they will inherit in their future careers, I’m really thinking about what is going to be the right combination of tools [for them to achieve that life of their choosing],”said Morris.  

He shared 10 key facts about nondegree credentials:

1. Nondegree credentials have been growing for decades. 

Six times as many workers have a license or certification now as compared to the 1950s, and the number of sub-baccalaureate certificates that have been issued by colleges and universities each year has nearly doubled since the 1990s.

2. Nondegree credentials are now nearly as common as college degrees. 

Forty percent of adults report that they have earned a nondegree credential compared to 46% of those who reported having earned a college degree.

3. The market of nondegree credentials is incredibly diverse.

There is no single institution that awards nondegree credentials, explains Morris. Vocational/technical college, college/university, government, professional association — these are just some of the many issuers of nondegree credentials. 

4. Most adults prefer a nondegree option.

In a recent survey conducted by Strada, three in five adults said that they would prefer a nondegree or skills training option because they saw those options as more relevant, streamlined and offering a better value prop than the alternatives.

5. Nondegree credentials aren’t dead ends.

Many people think that learners don’t continue on with other education opportunities, but data proves otherwise. It’s far more common for learners to combine degrees with nondegree credentials. Roughly half of adults with a college degree have also earned some kind of nondegree credential.

6. On average, nondegree credentials pay off.

Alumni of nondegree programs rate the quality and the value of their credentials positively: 65 percent said they were worth the cost, 49 percent said they helped them achieve their goals and 56 percent said they felt nondegree credentials made them an attractive job candidate.

When it comes to labor market outcomes, the median annual earnings are substantially higher than high school graduates ($50,000 compared to $32,000), but make less than those with bachelor;s degrees or higher ($75,000). However, job satisfaction is comparable to those with bachelor’s degrees or higher (both 69 percent). 

7. Some nondegree credentials pay more than some college degrees. 

For example, those with nondegree credentials in construction traders and information services earn more than those with an associates degree in liberal arts or a bachelor’s degree in education or the arts.

8. Buyers beware: not all nondegree credentials pay off.

Some provide access to middle-wage fields like construction trades and law enforcement, but other nondegree credentials lead to jobs in low-wage fields like cosmetology, childcare and food service.

9. Program length doesn’t equal value.

It’s not the length of the program that counts, but the job or career to which the program provides access. While many people believe that longer programs lead to better outcomes, the evidence suggests it’s not the time that matters, but, rather, what you learn and if the credential helps you get the job.

10. Outcomes are comparatively positive for Black Americans and Latinos.

Strada has seen in its surveys that Black Americans rate the quality and value of nondegree credentials the highest amongst racial groups.

The bottom line: “It’s no longer about whether or not nondegree credentials work or whether they have value, but it’s really a matter of how we help them to become more effective tools that learners, workers and employers can use,” said Morris. “How do we ensure that people have an array of tools that they can use to pursue a life of their choosing?”

Watch Morris’ session, Take Five! Research & Advocacy, from the Spotlight Mini-Summit:

Stephanie King

Stephanie King