Certificates gaining popularity, but students struggle to pay back loans
- Certificate programs have continued to see an expansion in enrollment. But, many students in these programs are still struggling to pay back education loans, with 44% of certificate students who borrowed in the 2003-04 school year having defaulted by 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Considering the default rate, many educators and policymakers have started to see the importance of addressing student ROI from certification programs, as it determines whether students may be able to repay loans from, according to a representative for the Center for American Progress. Some certification programs, like manufacturing have yielded positive results, but the success of others is still unclear.
- A report this year from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce there is on average more than 30 million jobs with an annual salary around $55,000, which do not require a college degree — which highlights why that more students may be seeking alternative degree options through certificates.
In many states, financial aid is predominantly offered to students who are attending a college or university full-time, to encourage students to complete the traditional education track. However, more students — particularly those ready to enter the workforce in a trade or who don't see the value of a four year degree — are seeking shorter, alternative, credentialing options including certification programs. But as community colleges and non-profits, which are most likely to offer certificate options, continue to gain steam while the default rate for loans remain steady, state policymakers and education leaders ought to be working together to address financing options for students who might need extra resources.
This is critical because while such credentials may lead to a more skilled and competitive workforce, if students are saddled with debt, it may hurt their pathways into the types of jobs the state would like to fill. In fact, part of the reason for a high default rate, according to The Center for American Progress, is that some certificate programs are not offering students the "bang for the buck" — they aren't able to find a job with a high enough salary to pay back loans, suggesting a need for more uniform accreditation or assessment of certificate programs. Increased bipartisan support for workforce development from state and federal policymakers could mean more attention will be granted toward bettering certificate programs, though it could also mean there would be hesitation on creating sufficient regulations.