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Labor Market Returns to Sub-Baccalaureate Credentials: How Much Does a Community College Degree or Certificate Pay?

By: Mina Dadgar & Madeline Joy Trimble


This study provides one of the first estimates of the returns to different types of community college credentials across different fields of study. The dataset used includes college transcripts and Unemployment Insurance records for students who entered a Washington State community college in 2001–2002.

The analysis suggests that earning an associate degree leads to increases in wages in almost every field, but that the magnitude of the effect varies greatly by field. Further, the analysis reveals that returns to associate degrees are higher than the returns to long- and short-term certificates within almost every field, but that a larger proportion of long-term certificates are offered in high-return fields.

The findings also suggest that short-term certificates have little or no effect on wages in most fields of study when compared with earning some credits but leaving college without a credential.

Finally, the impact of credential receipt on the probability of employment and on hours worked per week is at least as significant in magnitude as the impact on wages.

The article will be published in a forthcoming edition of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and is currently available online.