New Federal Statistical Data on Non-Degree Credentials

How many adults in the United States have an industry-recognized certification? What fields are they certified in? How many adults with no formal college credential have earned an industry certification? Until January of 2014, the federal government did not have the data to answer these questions. The goal of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA) is to improve federal data collection on education, training, and credentials for work.

GEMEnA is a collaboration among federal statistical agencies. The group is organized by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education, and includes the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (National Science Foundation), the Council of Economic Advisors, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Under Secretary of Education. These agencies began working together in 2009 to guide a series of survey item development activities including focus groups, cognitive interviews, and pilot studies. GEMEnA agencies are now beginning to use the items validated through this process in their official surveys.

The first official federal statistics based on GEMEnA’s work were released in January by the Census Bureau and showed that 46.3 million, or 21.6% of adults ages 18 or older in 2012 had an industry-recognized certification or occupational license.[1] Those with education levels of less than high school, high school, or some college (but no degree) earned more when they also had a certification or license. These data come from a few key questions designed to assess the prevalence of certifications and licenses that were included in a larger survey of adults’ education and economic status. Taken together, this information can help policy makers understand the interplay between education and work credentials, and how adults demonstrate their skills and knowledge to employers.

New data from other federal surveys are just on the horizon. Beginning in January 2015, the Current Population Survey will include two questions in the education section asking whether the respondent has a certification or license and one question in the employment section asking whether it is required for the respondent’s current or most recent job. Respondents will answer these questions in months 1 and 5, allowing for analysis of year to year change in credentials and related labor market outcomes. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics plans to include a series of items on certifications and licenses in the 2015 National Survey of College Graduates and will continue to follow the development of the certificate items.  The redesigned SIPP and several NCES longitudinal surveys now include items asking about certifications and licenses. And NCES is moving forward with fielding a full-scale Credentials for Work Survey as part of the next National Household Education Survey in 2016.

The first federal data on non-degree credentials have been released, but there is a lot more to learn about how adults in the United States get the education and training they need to succeed in the labor market. Better data can inform policy and spur research, inform the allocation of training dollars, and provide context for business planning and economic development. Find out more details about surveys and data availability at nces.ed.gov/surveys/gemena.

[1] Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials: 2012. U.S. Bureau of the Census, retrieved on 02/07/2014 from http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/files/p70-138.pdf.