Cover: The Credentials Students Earn Beyond a High School Diploma

The Credentials Students Earn Beyond a High School Diploma

Published Apr 12, 2021

by Lindsay Daugherty

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Individuals in the United States can pursue a variety of different types of postsecondary education credentials. This Perspective describes four common types: degrees, certificates, industry certifications and licenses, and apprenticeships.

Bachelor's degrees are the most commonly awarded postsecondary credential in the United States (approximately two million each year), though at least one million each of associate degrees, graduate degrees, and certificates are also awarded annually. Programs such as apprenticeships and dislocated worker programs also provide training to hundreds of thousands of adults each year, and these programs often result in industry-recognized credentials. In national surveys, 47 percent of Americans report holding some type of degree, and approximately one-fifth report holding a license or certification.

While those earning postsecondary credentials are diverse, disparities by race and ethnicity remain. White individuals are more likely to have earned bachelor's and graduate degrees and more likely to hold licenses and certifications relative to Black and Hispanic individuals. Women are slightly more likely to earn postsecondary education credentials of all types relative to men.

Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted within the RAND Lowy Family Middle-Class Pathways Center with RAND Education and Labor.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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