Author: Thomas Bailey & Clive R. Belfield (For the Community College Research Center)
Date: November 2017
In a recent report released by the Community College Research Center, researchers Thomas Bailey and Clive Belfield examined whether or not there is evidence of the labor market value of stacking credentials.
These credentials are intended to take less time than an associate degree but are “stackable”— credentials that can be earned over time. They have grown in popularity because they take less time, require less money, and provide more flexible learning options for students.
Stacks can be progressive (students start with a certificate that leads to a subsequent associate or bachelor’s degree), supplemental (certificates are earned after a degree), or independent (multiple certificates can be earned but without a degree).
In their analysis of students who had earned one of these three types of credential stacks versus those who did not, the researchers used the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, and data from North Carolina Community Colleges that included students who entered between 2002 and 2007. They did not find that earning any one of these stacks resulted in significant labor market returns as indicated by annual salary differentiation.
The researchers explain that while there were robust findings for degree holders and also positive gains for certificates (even though these are not very large), they found no concrete evidence of earning gains as a result of stacking these credentials. The labor market evidence was modestly positive for workers who had stacked credentials, but not significantly so.
The researchers acknowledged the small sample size of students in their databases who had stacked credentials and indicated that better, more deliberate surveys of this population may yield different results.
For more information, read the full report.