Certifications and Upward Mobility

I have been critical of the Virginia higher-ed establishment’s goal of making Virginia the best-educated state in the country. The goal is arbitrary and unconnected to the demand for higher-ed degrees. Pursuing the goal could result in over-investment in higher-education at great cost to students who wind up indebted and under-employed, and at the expense of lower-income Virginians and minorities who can’t keep up with the never-ending degree inflation.

However, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia does deserve credit for defining “best educated” as including not just four-year and advanced degrees but educational certifications, which recognize mastery of narrow skill sets in demand in the labor market. And SCHEV aims to boost programs, mostly in community colleges, that provide “certifications.

Now comes the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia with data showing the distribution of degrees and certifications granted in major regions across the state (measured by credentials granted per 100,000 population in the 2016-17 school year). Due to technical difficulties, I will replicate that relevant chart in a separate post. Writes Spencer Shanholz on the StatChat blog:

In 2017, Virginia as a whole awarded just over 20,000 certifications (classified as awards of less than 4 academic years, not including associate’s degrees) with rates being highest in the rural areas of the state. Southside’s certification rate was highest with 416 graduates per 100,000 residents. Southwest Virginia was not far behind, awarding nearly 400 certifications per 100,000 residents.

Students from all regions of Virginia earn educational credentials at a relatively high rate. Northern Virginia may source the bulk of students with bachelor’s degrees in Virginia, but students from the Southside and Southwest regions earn more certifications and associate’s degrees. Residents from rural areas of the state may not have the financial resources, familiarity with the college process, or proximity to major Universities, to acquire a bachelor’s degree at the rate of Northern Virginia; however, they are building valuable talent and gaining labor market value. Credentials lower than bachelor’s degrees are critical in filling many “middle skills” jobs, which are well paying and in high need.

Just because a college degree or certification originates in a particular region does not mean the degree- or certification-earner stays in that region. It is widely accepted that many students from rural Virginia who complete their degree leave their communities to find better employment opportunities in the big metropolitan areas. It’s not clear what happens to students who earn certifications, but I would conjecture that the certifications they earn are more closely aligned to the skills in demand locally and that a much higher percentage of them stay in their communities.

Certifications for dental technicians, HVAC service technicians, and the like provide access to employment opportunities at much lower cost than four-year degree programs. Lower-income students spend less time learning and more time earning, they rack up less debt, and they gain access to well-paying jobs as soon as they graduate. While four-year institutions remain fixated on the chimera of socio-economic diversity in fulfillment of their ideological agendas, the best path of upward mobility for thousands of Virginians is earning certifications at community colleges or career schools that give them access to the so-called middle-skill jobs and middle-class wages.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

12 responses to “Certifications and Upward Mobility

  1. re: ” mastery of narrow skill sets in demand in the labor market”

    I was struck by this observation ……. and agree with it.

    It alludes to a bigger point which is one CAN get a higher education – AND one that is in economic demand AND in less than 4 years – as an OPTION towards employment.

    One can also go for the high-dollar four-year enchilada on a generic college degree – and not necessarily have even a “narrow” and in-demand skill set AND be in debt up to their proverbial eyeballs.

    NOTHING precludes any kid from INITIALLY going for a 2 yr “narrow-skill” certificate – get a job, get themselves stabilized economically then position themselves for more/higher education.

    We’re doing this all wrong for a lot of kids especially the ones that come from tenuous economic and parental educational circumstances.

    Sure – it’s wonderful when a low-income kid makes it big but the reality is a lot like kids aiming for pro-sports careers. One in a thousand or worse and what happens to the others who did not make it?

    Four-year generic college is a dinosaur in the 21st century – one that actually seriously damages too many – economically. Railing against the cost won’t do a thing. People choosing different paths – will.

    • “Four-year generic college is a dinosaur in the 21st century – …”

      So, that would be what is otherwise referred to as a liberal arts education?

  2. This sounds like a good framework for progress but is 416 per 100,000 per year a strong number or a weak number? That’s about 95 people per year in Buchanan County for example.

  3. “Sure – it’s wonderful when a low-income kid makes it big but the reality is a lot like kids aiming for pro-sports careers. One in a thousand or worse and what happens to the others who did not make it?” OMG, Larry – you’d think nobody coming out of a low income household stands a chance. One in a thousand? Is this part of the Liberal Myth, that only government can save them? Dependency forever? No other country on the face of the Earth offers greater opportunity for mobility, and never has that opportunity been more widely dispersed. Perfect? No. But way better than you want to recognize, apparently. The “first from family in college” stats, for example, are a good proxy and are not one in a thousand.

    Yes, DJ, it needs to step up, but it probably will. I think that 100K is total population, isn’t it?

  4. “Four-year generic college is a dinosaur in the 21st century – one that actually seriously damages too many – economically. Railing against the cost won’t do a thing. People choosing different paths – will.”

    I agree with Larry’s general observation wholeheartedly.

    I have some very limited personal experience with subject as regards two year Associate Degrees in Occcupational / Tech credit awarded in Southwest Virginia. I was very impressed with what I saw as to the seriousness of the courses, and requirements of achievement demanded of those who graduated. Unlike many higher ed. degrees conferred today, very substantial numbers of kids did not receive in Occcupational / Tech degrees on graduation day because they did not their pass final examination needed to graduate. This tells me that those who did graduate in those professions at that institution got real educations of substantial worth. That was proven by the fact that many had good jobs in fine institutions waiting for them on graduation. These Associate degrees were plainly adding great value to students who were awarded them.

    But:

    Are such graduating standards applied to other sorts of degrees, particularly Liberal Arts degrees, whether BAs, Associate degrees, or certifications? Are any standards applied at all? These are important questions given the costs of such degrees. For example, did a student get a BA degree, or most of one, only to later discover he really needed to get an Associate tech degree? I fear a investigation into the cost spent on many of these degrees might far outweigh their value to student.

    • I agree with Larry’s general observation wholeheartedly, with the caveat that it likely applies to majority of students attending 4 year colleges, as those colleges are structured and operated today.

  5. re: ” OMG, Larry – you’d think nobody coming out of a low income household stands a chance. One in a thousand? Is this part of the Liberal Myth, that only government can save them? ”

    Well I did NOT say “nobody”. Some do make it but a lot do not – who could make it – if they set their sights on a more easily achievable goal – as a backup if nothing else – just as a good high school athlete ought to not give up on academics because they plan on going “pro”.

    Too many folks in the low income groups who are the first in their families to go to 4-yr – are not ready academically nor financially and many do not make it.

    That’s why I advocate Community College for them – to get that “narrow” set of skills that gets them that first job so they can then have an opportunity for the next step – without such a high wire act and heavy debt.

    We have wrongly promoted the idea that a 4-yr generic degree is the primary ticket to success – and in the 21st century it is not – not even for some academically-ready kids… it’s not the only path to success. Hells Bells, Gates and Zukerberg were DROPOUTS!

    I’m NOT advocating that NONE of them try for the 4yr – they should if they got the SATs and the family is prepared for the debt but in my day, many people who did not have the money for 4yrs – did it in smaller bites… some even went to school at night while they worked! Yes.. I know… how quaint!

    So get those panties out of their wad guy…. Larry is advocating for success – not failure.

  6. Jim and I agree on the problem – but I tend to think it’s both an urban and rural problem that affects both blacks and whites – both low income and both without parents or grandparents who went to college.

    Here’s some facts:

    Factsheets
    First-Generation Students

    Only 11% of low-income, first-generation college students will have a college degree within six years of enrolling in school, compared to about 55% of their more advantaged peers who were not low-income or first-generation students, according to a Pell Institute study of students who first enrolled in fall 2003.

    First-generation undergraduate students who are predominantly non-white and from low income backgrounds, face myriad financial, academic and social barriers to entering and completing college as the first in their families to navigate college admissions, financial aid and postsecondary coursework. Research has found significant differences in enrollment, degree attainment and finances between students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher and students whose parents have little or no college experience.

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 34% of undergraduates were the first in their families to go to college in the 2011-12 academic year. An additional 28% of undergraduates had parents with at least some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree.

    Enrollment/Degree Attainment

    First-generation students were more likely to attend two-year schools than their peers.
    48% of first-generation students enrolled in a two-year school, compared with 32% of students whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree.

    Only 25% of first-generation students attended four-year institutions. According to a 2008 Pell Institute study, first-generation students were more than seven times more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees if they started in four-year institutions as opposed to two-year institutions.
    First-generation students are more likely to enroll in for-profit schools than their peers.

    19% of first-generation students enrolled in for-profit schools, compared with 8% of students whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree.
    Nearly 50% of all students enrolled in for-profit schools were first-generation students.

    First-generation students were more likely to attend college part-time than their peers.
    48% of first-generation students attended college part-time, compared to 38% of students whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree.
    First-generation students enrolled in distance education at a higher rate than their peers.

    8% of first-generation students enrolled in distance learning while 5% of their peers whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree enrolled in distanced learning.

    According to a 2011 report from the Higher Education Research Institute, first-generation students were less likely to complete their college degree in six years than their peers whose parents had at least some college experience (50% first-generation versus 64% non-first-generation).

    • It should be obvious to anyone that “first-generation undergraduate students who are predominantly non-white and from low income backgrounds, face myriad financial, academic and social barriers to entering and completing college as the first in their families to navigate college admissions, financial aid and postsecondary coursework.” I am not sure what this hodge podge of data is supposed to show. In fact, one piece of it contradicts your earlier contention that first-generation students would be better off starting in community college; e.g. “According to a 2008 Pell Institute study, first-generation students were more than seven times more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees if they started in four-year institutions as opposed to two-year institutions.” (This data is a little dated, by the way.)

      • Yes, I saw that apparent contradiction also – but the other points are numerous and convincing that it’s a tougher row to how for first generation students who often typically do not appreciate the additional rigor expected from College as well as less personal attention, i.e. class sizes are a big deal in K-12 but in freshmen college, it’s typical to sit in an auditorium with a couple hundred others for some mandatory subjects.

        Second is financial literacy. Many low income families are not financially literate. They do not really appreciate thousands of dollars of student loan debt especially if it comes easily as financial aid -. Families of better off finances are better prepared to understand the significance of the debt and sometimes help with it.

        What I’m NOT doing here is advocating shutting off that option for those folks or to set tougher standards that disqualify them as some here sometimes seem to advocate. What I advocate is “training” in the different options for schooling like certifications and also training in finances so that these youngsters who did not get that info from their parents – get it from school and they understand that $40,000 in College debt is not something you walk away from without consequences and that’s especially true if they take courses from for-profit College – which those stats also show.

        In fact, hidden in those states is the net number of first generation kids who actually end up going to a traditional 4-yr college versus a for-profit “college”.

        Some states like New York and North Carolina have “public” Universities that have lower cost tuition and are designed to handle less academically prepared students… they’re almost like Community Colleges in the first two years.

        Bottom Line – “We”, the state needs to recognize that first-generation students from low-income families quite often, almost always, are less prepared academically and financially for College and who have little or no safety net if they get into trouble and/or fail and that translates into adults without jobs, on welfare and needing Medicaid and TANF, etc.

        That’s on us. But we don’t deny access to college – we, instead, provide the support needed for them to succeed because we pay when they don’t ……….

  7. Dick says: “It should be obvious to anyone that “first-generation undergraduate students who are predominantly non-white and from low income backgrounds, face myriad financial, academic and social barriers to entering and completing college as the first in their families to navigate college admissions, financial aid and postsecondary coursework.”

    Not really true anymore, but why?

    Now the same principal equally applies to disadvantaged whites, indeed even more so in elite universities. Plus I saw many minorities is the large working class graduating class I watched graduate. The only group missing there in that working class group were males of any color, whether white, black, brown, or otherwise, who are minority everywhere. The old stereotypes do not work anymore.

    Disadvantaged whites are at big disadvantage.

Leave a Reply