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A Quarter of Americans Have an Alternative Credential


January 17, 2014


A Quarter of Americans Have an Alternative Credential

According to a new U.S. Census report, in fall 2012, about 25 percent, or more than 50 million U.S. adults, held a professional certification, license or educational certificate.

In addition, the report found that alternative credentials were often associated with higher earnings, particularly professional certifications or licenses. Professional certificate or license holders who had an associate's degree or less as their highest level of educational attainment earned more than their peers. Educational certificate holders earned more than their peers who had not completed high school, had a high school diploma or had some college but neither an associate's nor bachelor's degree.  

In addition:

  • 22 percent of adults held a professional certification or license, while 9 percent held an educational certificate (some had both, hence the total of 25 percent of the population with at least one alternative credential).
  • Professional certifications and licenses were more common among people with at least an associate's degree, and were particularly concentrated at the master's and professional degree levels. Educational certificates were most common at the associate's degree level.
  • 11.2 million U.S. adults with a high school diploma or less education had a professional certification or license. If these people were counted in the "more than high school" category of educational attainment, that category would see an almost 5 percent increase.
  • Around 75 percent of professional certifications and licenses were required for the respondent's current or most recent job, and about 71 percent were awarded by the government. Approximately 90 percent involved education and training as well as a demonstration of competency.  
  • 82 percent of those with an educational certificate stated that it was awarded by an educational institution.
  • Those working in technical fields were most likely to hold an alternative credential. Other fields with a prevalence of alternative credentials included educational services, health care and social assistance.

This is the first time that questions about non-degree credentials were asked to a nationally representative panel as part of federal data collection.

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