Nondegree credentials, work-based learning, and the American working class
Key Points; Accounting for nondegree credentials and training—sub-baccalaureate certificates, industry certifications, professional licenses, work-experience programs, and apprenticeships—provides a more complete portrait of credential and skills attainment than regular measures of educational attainment do. Thirty-two percent of the working class—defined as adults 25–64 with a high school degree but no bachelor’s degree and who reported incomes between $20,000 and $40,000—has a license, certification, or certificate. Surprisingly, nondegree credentials in health care are more common than credentials in the trades for working-class credential-holding adults, while credentials in the trades are more prevalent for upper-income credential-holding adults. This suggests that credentials in the trades may present viable pathways to higher earnings. Nondegree credentials and work-experience programs are often presented as alternatives to postsecondary education. However, these credentials and programs supplement college degrees for higher-educated adults more often than serving as alternatives to degrees for less-educated adults.