New Report Finds Adults with Nondegree Credentials Rate Their Education Positively, Especially When Combined with College Degrees

Report also finds that more respondents rate shorter nondegree programs as worth the cost than longer ones
July 28, 2021

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INDIANAPOLIS — July 28, 2021 — Strada Education Network, a nonprofit social impact organization dedicated to improving lives by forging pathways between education and employment, has released new findings from the nationally representative Strada-Gallup Education Survey, which asks adults about their experiences with education and work.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Americans have expressed a consistent preference for nondegree credentials (25 percent) and skills training options (37 percent). The new Public Viewpoint report documents that 2 in 5 Americans hold a nondegree credential. These credentials are especially valuable in combination with college degrees, in particular associate degrees. Positive ratings increase significantly for all individuals who hold both a degree and a nondegree credential, highlighting the potential value of education and training pathways that integrate both opportunities.

Overall, compared to their peers, those with a bachelor’s degree reported higher earnings and stronger ratings for value, with the exception of help with achieving their goals. When an associate degree was combined with a nondegree credential, 69 percent of recipients reported their education was worth the cost, compared to only 48 percent when they held an associate degree without a nondegree credential.

“Given Americans’ clear interest in nondegree credentials, these new insights point us to the fact that individuals with both college degrees and nondegree credentials consistently report the greatest benefit from their postsecondary education,” said Dr. Dave Clayton, senior vice president at Strada’s research center. “With stackable and portable credentials, we can deliver both opportunities to individuals rather than perpetuating limiting choices between degrees and certificates.”

The 1 in 5 Americans who report a nondegree credential as their highest level of postsecondary education are just as likely—and in some cases more likely—as those with an associate degree to say the credentials provided them value.

The majority (65 percent) of those with a nondegree credential and no further education said their education was worth the cost, 56 percent said it made them an attractive job candidate, and 49 percent said it helped them achieve their goals. By comparison the ratings for those with an associate degree as their highest education were 59 percent for worth the cost, 57 percent for attractive job candidate, and 43 percent for achieving their goals. And people with nondegree credentials and associate degrees had identical self-reported earnings.

The survey also asked certificate-holders about the length of their programs, and found that longer programs do not necessarily lead to greater value than shorter ones. The survey found that 85 percent of those who completed a certificate program that took between one week and one month to complete said it was worth the cost, compared to 59 percent of those who completed a program that took between six months and a year to complete.

Among nondegree education and training providers, alumni rated community colleges the highest in terms of quality and value, while individual businesses and companies received the lowest ratings. Almost 8 in 10 (78 percent) of those with a nondegree credential from a community college said it was worth the cost, compared to only 54 percent of those with a nondegree credential from an individual business or company.

Looking across demographic groups, women and men reported similar value from nondegree credentials. Black Americans rated them higher than other racial groups across the board, while white Americans had the lowest ratings and Latinos were in the middle.

The new Public Viewpoint findings come from the Strada-Gallup Education Survey, fielded by Gallup, Inc. from April 2020-Dec 2020. It is a nationally representative mail and web survey of nearly 14,000 adults. The survey was designed and commissioned by Strada Education Network’s researchers, a team that studies the experiences and perceptions of American adults in order to better support individuals who face the most barriers to postsecondary education and career success. This research includes more than 350,000 completed surveys about the education and work experiences of American adults, the largest such database in the nation. View the full findings from this survey and past surveys at stradaeducation.org/publicviewpoint.

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About Strada Education Network
Strada Education Network is a new kind of social impact organization dedicated to improving lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment. Our approach combines innovative research, thought leadership, strategic philanthropy, mission-aligned investments and a network of affiliate organizations. Together, we work to better serve the millions of Americans seeking to complete postsecondary education and training, gain clear value from those experiences, and build meaningful careers. Learn more at stradaeducation.org.

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