The “Wild West” of Certificates

The nationwide movement to boost vocational training of students by increasing the number of awarded certificates has run into serious criticism. All too often, students earn credentials that are worthless in terms of prospective earnings, and end up saddled with debt, according to a comprehensive article in the Hechinger Report, by Jon Marcus.

If your college offers new untested certificates, or is considering such a move, please read the piece. In a word, be careful. One of the fields discussed in the article is home health care aide training—presumably a growing occupation due to the aging population. Well, it turns out that wages are extremely low for these jobs, and mostly don’t require a credential at all. Community colleges generally consult with local employers carefully before launching a new program. Good idea.

The article indicates that it’s not just the for-profit schools that are culpable. Some public colleges have found that awarding new certificates can bring in added revenue.

The Trump Administration has eased up on rules requiring “gainful employment,” promulgated by the Obama Administration. This new environment contributes to a “wild west” scenario mentioned in the piece. You may have noticed an increase in TV ads for proprietary schools, making all kinds of promises about future careers, and informing viewers that financial aid is readily available—which turns out to be a loan when the student visits the campus or logs on to a website. Veterans use their GI Bill revenue to fund tuition, so taxpayers have a stake in this issue. There are a lot of good for-profits out there in the wild west, but there may be no sheriff in town.

The writer cites studies and evidence on both sides of the controversy, so please look over the whole article. One of the driving forces behind the movement to increase the number of certificates is the Lumina foundation. However, leaders at Lumina maintain that, when tabulating certificates, only high quality awards are counted. Let’s hope so.