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Whether you need new skills to boost your career, you’re between jobs, or thinking of starting a business, continuing your education could be key. According to a recent study from Georgetown University, work certificates are the fastest-growing qualification you can earn.
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Unlike degrees, their primary goal is to prepare students for jobs and careers—with very little general academic coursework. They offer affordable occupational training you can put to use right away. Here’s how the right certificate can work for you.
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The Value of Certificates
For experienced workers, the opportunity cost of leaving work to gain education is high. That’s one reason certificate programs make sense: More than half take less than a year to earn, and none takes more than two years to complete, says Andrew R. Hanson, a research analyst with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce who co-authored a pioneering study on certificates released in June 2012. (That’s compared with an average of five years to earn a Bachelor’s degree.)
Cost is another advantage of certificate programs: A one-year certificate from a public, two-year institution ranges in cost from about $1,500 to $3,000; double that if the certificate program takes two years. Hanson says your income payoff also depends upon the field you’ve chosen and how much education you already have.
“People are increasingly cost conscious, and certificates leverage them into a better job at the lowest cost they can afford,” Hanson says. On average, certificates offer a 20% pay boost over a high school diploma. Workers with an associate’s degree earn 6% more with a certificate, and workers with a bachelor’s degree can expect a 3% pay boost, on average. “But there are softer benefits. A certificate can support a longer career and offer more options and flexibility in your field.” Certificates can help dig you out of a dying industry by helping you get your foot in the door in a different, thriving field.
Since 1994, certificate programs have become the fastest growing educational award, Hanson says. They’re now the second most common award: Students earn 800,000 of them a year, compared with 1 million bachelor’s degrees. Colleges have taken notice, diving in to offer everything from entry-level certificates at community colleges and for-profit programs to masters’ level certificates at Ivy League universities.
In fact, certificates may offer the most time-and cost-efficient way to upgrade skills and get hired in a down economy. Thanks to cutbacks, many employers who once trained workers and new hires no longer do. “There is definitely a skills gap, and certificate programs can help close the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be,” says Abby Kohut, recruiter and author of Absolutely Abby's 101 Job Search Secrets. “Some certificates require experience in the field first; for example, the Professional Human Relations certificate requires two to four years of HR experience. But many IT certificates require no prior related experience. And in IT, the more certificates you have, the better your chances of earning a higher wage.”