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WCC degree programs generate the best economic return

Most people don’t take the time to look at graduation statistics for any particular institution. Even so, the numbers tell a tale, which is why the State of Michigan tracks them. Degree programs are often measured in years. A bachelor’s degree is a four (or sometimes five) year program. A master’s degree is a two-year program. Doctoral programs can take any number of years to complete. Degree completion is more important than the time it took the student to complete one.

Like every other institution, WCC tracks the completion rates for its degree programs. For example, in 2018-2019, WCC awarded 4,389 academic credentials of one type or another to its students. WCC awards three kinds of credentials: certificates of less than one year; certificates of more than one year and associate’s degrees.

Of the 4,389 awards WCC made last year, 69% of them were of the “certificates of less than one year” variety. You might recall that yesterday, I wrote about the value of such certificates. To summarize, many certificate holders earn less than a high school graduate (with no post-secondary credentials) after six years in the workplace. For those certificate holders who borrow to attend school, 80% of them aren’t making enough money three years after graduation to begin repaying their student loans.

WCC offers certificate programs for those students who already have a post-secondary credential. They also offer traditional, two-year associate’s degree programs. Of the 4,389 credentials awarded last year, only slightly more than 30% were associate’s degrees. Of the associate’s degrees awarded, students in occupational education programs earned 61.6% of them.

Occupational degree programs offer the most value

You can frame this any way you like. Students in occupational education programs complete more complete two-year degrees than students in non-occupational programs. Female students in occupational education programs complete more two-year degrees than female students in non-occupational education programs. Male students in occupational education programs complete more two-year degree programs than male students in non-occupational education programs.

There is one thing you can’t say about WCC’s two-year degree programs, though. With the exception of Asian students, minority students do not earn more occupational degrees than their non-occupational counterparts. That’s unfortunate, because minorities earn less than their white counterparts once they enter the workforce.

Earning a two-year degree in an occupational program could better prepare minority students for higher-paying jobs. It could also provide minority students with both higher entry-level wages and higher lifetime earnings.

Despite this, most credentials WCC issues are for certificates that require one year or less in the classroom. These are the same certificates that leave students with lower overall earnings and higher student debts. 59% of the 1-year certificates WCC issues are earned in non-occupational programs. Minority students earn nearly 41% of them.

Certificates certainly inflate the number of credentials that WCC awards to students every year. But credentials that employers don’t value and increase student debt without increasing their earnings do more harm than good.

Photo Credit: mattdwen, via Flickr