By Zafar Khizer, President, PC AGE Career Institute

A new study released in June 2012 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce confirms that even though on average college degree holders earn more than workers with certificates, many with certificates in fields such as IT, earn more than workers with Associate’s degrees and some earn more than workers with Bachelor’s degrees.

“In computer and information services, [certificate holder] men working in field earn $72,498 per year, which is more than 72 percent of men with an Associate’s degree and 54 percent of men with Bachelor’s degrees. Women with certificates in this field and working in a related occupation earn $56,664 annually, which is greater than 75 percent of women with an Associate’s degree and 64 percent of women with a Bachelor’s degree,” the study finds.

Obviously, experience is a major factor too in the salaries mentioned above but people would not have reached those salary levels without their certificates and without working in the field. This report confirms something we have known here at PC AGE for over twenty years. Considering the fact that the average college tuition is now over $27000 per year and only 50% of students complete college, going for a one year certificate program that pays more than a bachelor’s degree is the logical option for most people, especially those looking to change careers.

So what is the difference between the traditional model and taking the Certificate First, then Degree model? It is much more than many people imagine.

Generally speaking, it takes four years and costs over $100,000 to complete a Bachelor’s degree in contrast to one year for a certificate that costs about $20,000. For a $35,000 salary, three years of loss of income while attending college and not working is $105,000. Since some employers pay for your college, if you get a certificate first, get a job, and then complete your degree, you are probably saving $185,000.

For most people, pursuing a degree first is a huge mistake both financially and in terms of time, especially for those who have higher chances of dropping out due to circumstances. But now as this report finds, the trend is changing and more and more people are taking a Certificate First, then Degree route. It is a very smart and more direct path to financial success.

It should be noted that the Georgetown University study is referring to certificates or credentials issued by many non degree granting institutes. Even though pay is impressive for those working in the training related field, only 24% of men holding certificates in IT work in the field. To increase probability of employment in the training related field, PC AGE also prepares students for industry certifications such as from CompTIA, Microsoft, and Cisco. This gives students an edge in the job market resulting in over 70% placement rates in the field that is much higher than 24% that the report finds.

Other findings of the report are:

  • Certificates are the fastest growing form of postsecondary credentials in the US.
    Two out of every three workers who have a certificate and a college degree earned the certificate first, an indi­cation that certificates can serve as a stepping stone on the way to a college degree.
  • Certificates tend to be occupationally focused and rely on train­ing in specific fields as opposed to the broader general education approach of two- and four-year degrees.
  • The more specific and applied occupational learning typical of cer­tificate programs can make up for the effects of a lack of general academic preparation. In a sense these findings suggest that, in economic terms, training can substitute for education.
  • Certificates add value to degrees. The combination of a certificate and a degree has a measurable positive effect.

The complete report, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees is available online at