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Research Questions

  1. To what degree has Ohio seen an expansion in the number of applied programs being offered at the bachelor's degree or below in health care, manufacturing and engineering technology, and information technology?
  2. To what degree were certificate programs designed to incorporate features that characterize stackable credential programs?
  3. Did individuals in Ohio who earned certificates and went on to stack additional credentials in health care, manufacturing and engineering technology, and information technology see earnings gains?
  4. To what degree did earnings gains vary across fields, types of credentials stacked, and individual characteristics?

Stackable credential initiatives aim to build education and training pipelines in applied fields that allow individuals to earn educational certificates or other industry-recognized credentials and then build on these short-term credentials to earn additional certificates and degrees throughout their careers. Stackable credentials have the potential to provide more flexible education and training options for individuals and align better with employer needs.

Stackable credentials are a priority for Ohio and a national trend in postsecondary institutions, yet little research has been conducted on whether institutions are scaling stackable programs, how students are stacking credentials, and whether these programs benefit individuals and employers.

In this report, the authors examine Ohio's stackable credential pipelines in three fields—health care, manufacturing and engineering technology, and information technology—during the period between 2005 and 2019. They explore two areas: (1) growth in short-term education programs offered by Ohio public institutions and the degree to which programs incorporated features that characterize stackable credentials; and (2) earnings outcomes for certificate-earning students who went on to stack postsecondary education credentials.

Key Findings

  • There were large increases in certificate program offerings and somewhat smaller increases in bachelor's degree program offerings, while trends in associate's degree offerings varied by field.
  • Certificate programs commonly reported stackable features, and the percentage of new certificate program reporting features aligned with stackable programs increased between 2014 and 2019.
  • On average, individuals who earned a postsecondary certificate in Ohio saw a 16-percent increase in earnings, and individuals who stacked multiple credentials saw a 37-percent increase in earnings (approximately $9,000 in earnings annually).
  • The earnings gains from certificates and stacking credentials were highest when individuals started with health care certificates, stacked progressively (to higher levels of credentials), and stacked within a single field.
  • Women and younger students experienced larger gains from stacking credentials relative to their male and older peers.
  • Black and Hispanic students experienced similar or larger gains from earning a certificate relative to their white peers. However, white students experienced larger gains from additional credentials earned after the first certificate and had larger overall earnings gains from stacking relative to black students.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored primarily through funding from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. The study was undertaken by RAND Education and Labor in partnership with the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

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