Earnings Data for Undergraduate Certificate Programs

on December 13, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education has published an analysis of program-level earnings data for undergraduate certificate programs. The data was collected as a consequence of the gainful employment regulations. The analysis finds that average earnings are 13 percent higher at public college programs than at for-profit college programs for the same field of study. Overall, the average earnings are higher at public colleges for about 80 percent of the fields of study.

The differences in earnings do vary by field of study. The enrollment at public colleges tended to be shifted more toward higher-paying fields of study. But, even for graduates in the same field of study, the earnings tended to be higher at the public colleges than at the for-profit colleges.

Nevertheless, not all is good, even at public colleges. A significant number of the programs at public and for-profit colleges have median earnings that are less than $14,500, the full-time earnings of a minimum-wage worker. (This assumes earnings of $7.25 per hour for 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year. This is 120 percent of the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds for 2015 for a family size of one.) This table illustrates the percentage of certificate programs that had median earnings under $14,500 and the percentage of students enrolled in these programs.

Merdian Earnings < $14,500 Certificate Programs at Public Colleges Certificate Programs at For-Profit Colleges
Number of Programs 945 of 6,055 (15.6%) 1,754 of 4,140 (42.4%)
Student Counts 24,295 of 178,505 (13.6%) 175,801 of 541,785 (32.4%)


The highest-paying undergraduate degrees and certificates are in medicine, such as physician assistants and nursing, followed by positions involving technology, such as communication systems installation and repair, electrical/electronics equipment installation and repair and computer programming.


The earnings data is based on Social Security Administration (SSA) earnings data for calendar year 2014.

The U.S. Department of Education plans to publish earnings data on a program level to the College Scorecard.


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