Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 27 No. 2 (Spring 2013)


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Beyond BA Blinders: Lessons from Occupational Colleges and Certificate Programs for Nontraditional Students

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Rosenbaum, James E., and Janet Rosenbaum. 2013. "Beyond BA Blinders: Lessons from Occupational Colleges and Certificate Programs for Nontraditional Students." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(2): 153-72.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.2.153


Postsecondary education mostly focuses on the four-year BA degree. Community colleges are often promoted as the first step toward the ultimate goal of a four-year degree. However, community colleges have extremely poor degree completion rates. There is evidence suggesting better results for their private, two-year counterparts -- particularly for certificate completion. We will focus on occupational colleges -- private accredited colleges that offer career preparation in occupational fields like health care, business, information technology, and others. These institutions challenge many of our preconceptions about college. They are less wedded to college traditions, which raises some interesting questions: Do private colleges offering certificates or AA degrees use different procedures? Should community colleges consider some of these procedures to reduce student difficulties and improve their completion rates? For many community college students, earning a more likely, quick sub-BA credential -- perhaps followed by a four-year degree in the future -- will be preferable to the relatively unlikely pathway from a community college program directly to a four-year BA. In sum, this paper suggests that nontraditional colleges and nontraditional credentials (certificates and AA degrees) deserve much closer attention from researchers, policymakers, and students.

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Rosenbaum, James E. (Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern U)
Rosenbaum, Janet (SUNY Downstate Medical Center)

JEL Classifications

I23: Higher Education and Research Institutions
J24: Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


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