Strand 2: Educational Certificates

GEMEnA's second strand of work is to develop and deploy of a core set of survey items related to the prevalence and key characteristics of subbaccalaureate educational certificates. Although the Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES) pilot study (described in strand 1) included questions on educational certificates and a seeded sample of certificate holders, the study's findings concerning the validity of certificate questions were inconclusive. Thus, GEMEnA has recommended additional developmental work on survey items related to certificate attainment.

For this purpose, a new pilot study is being designed to improve on the measurement of educational certificates that was attempted in ATES. The work will include a sharper focus on measures specific to certificates and will feature a larger sample of known certificate holders. The study has begun with focus groups to determine how certificate holders talk and think about their credential. Next, questionnaire items will be developed and tested in cognitive interviews. Finally, the new questions will be tested in a pilot study using a sample of known certificate holders that is more representative both geographically and by field of study than was the seeded sample in the ATES pilot study. Paired with a new national sample, this new seeded sample will provide a more rigorous test of the validity of the new certificate items.

NCES also is responding to increased interest in subbaccalaureate educational certificates by improving the ability of its current data collections to measure these credentials. The two projects described below will improve and expand the ability of NCES studies to answer important policy questions about the prevalence and economic impact of certificate education.

1. Improving Institutional Data Collection on Certificates

NCES currently collects annual counts of the number of certificates awarded, through its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). IPEDS gathers information from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in federal student aid programs—over 7,000 institutions in all. The IPEDS data collection is guided by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC), which oversees IPEDS research and development.

A specially designated NPEC working group recently evaluated how institutions report certificate completions to IPEDS, in order to improve the quality, comparability, and usefulness of these data. The working group's final report was released in September 2012. GEMEnA supports the recommendations of that report to 1) clarify IPEDS instructions and definitions for certificates; 2) convene a Technical Review Panel to explore the feasibility of modifying and expanding IPEDS certificate categories; and 3) collect noncredit certificate data.

2. Oversampling Certificate Holders in BPS:2012

Since 1996, NCES has conducted a periodic longitudinal study of students who have recently matriculated into postsecondary education, the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS). The BPS is conducted about every eight years, with the most recent study initiated in 2012. BPS is the largest federal survey that regularly examines the economic outcomes of students in subbaccalaureate programs. However, due to sample size limitations, previous rounds of BPS have lacked the capacity to conduct in-depth analyses of the economic returns to educational certificates in specific fields of study. Starting in 2012, BPS features a larger sample size for students who enter postsecondary education with the goal of attaining an educational certificate. This oversample will allow finer-grained analyses of the characteristics of students in certificate programs, their persistence and attainment, and their occupational and economic outcomes.