For Americans who haven't been to college, alternative credentials such as professional licenses or educational certificates offer an edge in earnings, a new U.S. Census Bureau report shows.
But Latinos lag behind other Americans in getting such licenses and certificates, a worrisome sign for educators and advocates who see the training as a ladder to better jobs with better wages.
In its first report ever made on alternative educational credentials, the census bureau found that 1 out of 4 Americans holds some kind of educational credential or professional license other than an academic degree, including about 11.2 million people with no college education. Such alternative credentials are found in a vast range of fields, including cosmetology and financial management.
"They're efficient. They're cheap, relatively speaking. And they're very tightly tied to the labor market," said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. When it comes to building a career in America, "these are new rungs on the ladder."
The census bureau found that such licenses and certificates offer an edge in earnings to Americans who haven't earned a bachelor's degree: People who didn't graduate from high school earned 26% more if they had some kind of alternative credential, its analysis of median monthly earnings found.
But some Americans are much more likely to get those alternative credentials than others. Less than 15% of Latinos had either a professional license or educational certificate, compared to 21% of blacks, nearly 22% of Asian Americans and almost 28% of whites. People in their 30s and 40s were much more likely to have them than younger adults, the report also showed.
The gaps are troubling to educators and advocates who have plugged such training as a way to boost Americans who aren't bound for college and help keep more educated Americans up to speed in their fields.
Latinos are more likely to head into fields where alternative credentials are less commonly pursued, such as food service, Carnevale said.
They might also have more trouble paying for such credentials than other Americans do, said Gary Hoachlander, president of the California organization ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career.
Some certificates are offered through apprenticeship programs with steep academic requirements, another possible barrier in light of persisting achievement gaps between Latinos and other students, Hoachlander said.
Carnevale added that with little information available to help would-be students gauge the alternative programs that are out there — or even to know what exists — some may simply be unaware of such opportunities.
Compared to other groups, "the Latino population is still stuck in the uncredentialed labor market at a time when credentialing is very much on the rise," Carnevale said. "They're being squeezed out of that part of the economy."
The report also found that getting an alternative credential was tied to higher pay for Americans with professional degrees, though there was little apparent difference for people with bachelor's or master's degrees. People who were working were more likely to have alternative credentials than the unemployed.
"This study really underscores the economic payoff" for education beyond high school, be it college or alternative training, Hoachlander said.
More than three out of four Americans who had gotten alternative credentials said they were required for their current or most recent job, the report found. Education, nursing and other health professions were among the most common fields in which Americans were certified.
The census bureau report was based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation gathered between September and December of last year.