Students See Increased Value in Nondegree Credential Programs

Students See Increased Value in Nondegree Credential Programs
portrait of Jessica Bryant
By Jessica Bryant

Published on August 30, 2021

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The popularity of nondegree pathways has rapidly increased over the last few years, and students are reporting positive results. A recent Center for Education Consumer Insights report found that students who earned both a degree and nondegree credential rated their educational experience higher than those who just earned a degree.

Just under half (47%) of college degree holders have completed additional nondegree programs. And alumni of nondegree programs are slightly more likely to believe their program was worth the cost and helped them achieve their goals than associate degree holders.

Overall, the majority of students who earn nondegree credentials believe in the credential program's value, its ability to help them achieve their goals, and its ability to make them a desirable job candidate. Though outcomes vary among different industries and racial/ethnic groups, students generally hold nondegree pathways in high esteem.

This is a shift from previously held beliefs about the validity and importance of nondegree credentials. In the past, these types of credentials were not as common and were often looked down on by hiring managers.

Now, 40% of working-age adults in the U.S. have completed a nondegree credential program. And according to a recent BestColleges report, 40% of business leaders believe that nondegree bootcamp training programs provide technical instruction that is as thorough or rigorous as a college degree.

What Are Nondegree Credentials?

As the alternative education pathways industry has grown in desirability, its offerings have expanded too. Nondegree credential programs can include certificate-based community college programs, industry-based certifications and occupational licenses, coding bootcamps, apprenticeships, vocational training, and more.

Black Nondegree Credential Holders Are Most Likely to Value Their Programs

Among various racial/ethnic groups, Black nondegree credential holders are most likely to believe their program was worth the cost, helped them achieve their goals, and made them an attractive candidate during the hiring process.

White nondegree credential holders were least likely to agree with their programs' value, with just 44% reporting that it helped them achieve their goals. Still, regardless of race/ethnicity, at least two-thirds of nondegree alumni believe their programs were worth the cost.

Alumni Rate Healthcare Nondegree Credentials Highest

Just like traditional postsecondary degree programs, nondegree programs are specialized by field of study. Students who participated in healthcare nondegree programs rated their experience higher than those who participated in programs for other fields of study.

Students who earned credentials in finance and mechanic or repair programs were least likely to report that their programs helped them achieve their goals. However, more than half reported their programs made them an attractive job candidate, and about two-thirds or more said the programs were worth the cost.

Nondegree computer science alumni were least likely to report that their credentials have helped make them an attractive job candidate despite 64% saying the program they participated in was worth its cost.

Alumni Most Value Nondegree Programs by Community Colleges

Many institutions issue nondegree credentials. However, no single provider type dominates the market.

Of the various providers for these credentials, former students most valued credentials obtained through community college programs. Seventy-eight percent agreed that their community college nondegree program was worth the cost, 59% reported that it helped them achieve their goals, and 67% said it made them an attractive job candidate.

Conversely, credentials issued by businesses, companies, and professional associations were rated lowest.

Less than a third of respondents (32%) who earned their nondegree credentials through a professional association agreed that those credentials helped them achieve their goals. However, the large majority (73%) still said the programs were worth the cost. Just under half (49%) report that it made them an attractive job candidate.


Feature Image: Paul Bradbury / OJO Images / Getty Images

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