The report was publish ed by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Di Xu and Madeline Trimble, the primary researchers, said the program students choose matters more than the time spent earning a degree. They also said short-term certificates significantly improve probability of employment, particularly in North Carolina.
An associate’s degree usually requires two years of full-time study, but hundreds of short-term certifications are offered for less credit — some requiring as little as one semester of study. Though many students who earn certificates are already employed, those who enter the workforce after completion have a high rate of immediate employment.
Matthew Meyer, the associate vice president for STEM innovation at North Carolina Community Colleges said the state’s community college curriculum has recently refocused to accommodate a changing world.
“We have made (credentials) a focus of our system,” he said.
Little research has been done on the value of these short-term certificates, especially in comparison with long-term degrees, which require a year or more of full-time study, Trimble said.
There are disparities by field — b ut short-term certificates overall significantly improve students’ chances of finding a job. According to the report, recipients of short-term degrees are 6.4 percent more likely to be employed in North Carolina than people without the credentials.
Meyer said North Carolina uses a “stacked curriculum” — putting short-term credentials into longer degrees — which enables students to further their education while also obtaining immediately applicable skills.
Meyer said the way students are furthering their education is changing.
“Companies no longer look at that four-year degree — that piece of paper — they’re looking at your skill set,” he said.
Valarie Evans, senior vice president for student success at Durham Technical Community College, agrees with Meyer.
“We used to talk about a career ladder, but honestly it’s more like a career lattice.”
She said the certificate might give students a foot in the door to a job. Still, Evans and Meyer both emphasized that a short-term degree is a stepping stone.
“There are many ramps and paths to a good career — certification is one of those,” Meyer said. “But education is life-long. Don’t stop there.”