DAYTON, Ohio — The number of people earning college certificates has dramatically increased as students seek the quickest connection to a job.
Certificates are the fastest-growing college credential, with more than 1 million awarded nationally in 2010, according to a recent study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Certificates equip students with the skills they need for a job, often in less than a year. And they sometimes increase a person's earnings potential past that of a bachelor's degree holder.
"There has been an explosion in certificates," said Sean Creighton, executive director of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.
"The offerings have increased dramatically with certificates because it's a great way for a student — whether it's a working adult or somebody in transition — to get some real technical development," he said.
Certificates almost always take less than two years to complete and more than half take less than one year and often do not include general education classes required by associate's or bachelor's degree programs, according to Georgetown.
Some of the certificate programs are ideal for a student just starting college, said Jane Cape, Clark State Community College's dean of business and applied technologies.
Others are aimed at professionals looking to gain new skills or people with bachelor's or master's degrees wanting to expand their training with certificates in areas such as advanced technical intelligence, Cape said.
"We provide certificates because a lot of people come to us and want to know what's the shortest distance from what I am right now — unemployed — to employable and skilled," said David Devier, vice president of academic and student affairs at Clark.
And many are a stepping stone to a degree.
After completing Clark's diesel program, for example, students can receive more advanced training through a degree program. The field, which pays $40,850 annually, is expected to grow at an average pace through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On average, someone with a certificate will earn 20 percent more than a high school graduate — about a $240,000 increase over a lifetime, according to the Georgetown report.
There are wide variations in the benefits gained from certificates between men and women and based on field of study.
A man with a certificate working in computer or information services can be paid nearly $72,500 annually — which is more than what is earned by 72 percent of men with an associate's degree and 54 percent of men with a bachelor's degree, the Georgetown report found.
Five million workers will need to earn technical certificates or credentials by 2018 to meet economic needs, according to Georgetown.
"The industries are changing, and you've got to continue to adapt," said Deborah Norris, vice president of workforce development and corporate services at Sinclair Community College. "We have to always be upgrading our skills and always learning. That's the information age we're in."
The Georgetown report does not include post-baccalaureate or post-master's certificates.