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Technical schools called gateway to college degree

06/07/2012 - June 7, 2012 - by Phyllis Zorn

Attending a technical school can result in a bigger payoff than getting a bachelor’s degree, according to a new study released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The study, “Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees,” shows certificates are the fastest growing form of postsecondary credentials in the United States. Certificates account for 22 percent of postsecondary awards, up from only 6 percent in 1980. The study attributes that growth to affordability, speed of completion and high returns.

The study also shows certificates have become a stepping stone to college degrees, with 20 percent of certificate holders going on to get associate’s degrees and an additional 13 percent ultimately attain a bachelor’s degree.

That was not a surprise to officials at Autry Technology Center.

“Autry Technology Center offers the best of both worlds,” said Melissa Jenlink, director of marketing at Autry. “Students can test and earn their certification while on campus, earn college credit and graduate with an associate’s degree upon completion in some of the programs.”

Among the study findings:

• Male certificate holders earn more money than 40 percent of men with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees.

• Female certificate holders earn more money than 34 percent of the women with associate’s degrees and 24 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees.

• The value of the certificate is tied to being in, and working in, the right field. On average, certificate holders who work in field, earn 37 percent more than those who work out of field.

• The highest earners are those who are working in high-demand occupations. For instance, men who work in computer/information services earn $72,498 per year, which is more than 72 percent of men with associate’s degrees, and 54 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees.

Women in the same field earn $56,664, which is greater than 75 percent of women with associate’s degree, and 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees.

“Certificates don’t work for everyone,” said Anthony Carnevale, the Georgetown center’s director and the report’s lead author. “Certificates are the cutting edge for Hispanic educational and income gains, they provide big payoffs for men but not for women, especially African-American women.”

Although men who earn certificates earn 27 percent more than high school-educated men, women with a certificate only receive an average 16 percent more than women with a high school diploma.

Certificates provide higher economic payoff for those with less educational preparation. Students who enroll in certificate programs and have lower standardized test scores, receive similar wages as workers with some college.

In Oklahoma, 18 percent of workers have certificates as their highest level of education, ranking the state in the top slot for the share of workers with a certificate.

“Working closely with industry through advisory councils and partnerships allows Autry to stay in tune with industry’s needs,” Jenlink said. “This helps students get jobs following completion and helps industry fill open positions. The class offerings are tailored to meet industry needs as much as possible.”

Jenlink said the top-earning certifications at Autry are instrument and electronic technicians, registered respiratory therapists, radiographers, welders, diesel technicians, heating and air conditioning technicians and truck drivers.

The demand for positions in these industries is high due to economic development in the oilfield industry, continued health care needs and retirement of specialized technicians, she said.

Those completing Autry’s respiratory care program, test to be registered respiratory therapists. These students’ average starting wages are $23 per hour and the program has a 100 percent pass rate.

Instrument and electronic technicians average $19.45 per hour in entry-level positions.

The full study, “Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees,” can be seen online at /certificates.