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Workers can increase pay without college degree: Colorado report

‘There are a number of credentials of value across healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing’

Workers who want to increase their pay can do so without adding a costly college degree, a study from the Colorado Department of Higher Education concluded.

The annual “Return on Investment Report” highlighted how “stackable credentials” and other similar programs can help workers gain new skills to fill job openings in the state’s economy.

The state “has two job openings for every trained worker,” according to its own report.

“This statistic drives the need for expanded access to quality short-term credentials in high-value, in-demand industries,” the state’s report concluded.

The director of the state’s “Credential Pathways” initiatives provided further comments to The College Fix.

“There are a number of credentials of value across healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing,” Ruthanne Orihuela told The Fix via a media statement.

“Aside from associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, the non-degree credentials that can be considered include postsecondary undergraduate certificates, industry credentials, apprenticeship certificates, non-credit badges and microcredentials, as well as licensure,” Orihuela told The Fix.

She gave specific examples available within the nursing field, including “certified nurse aide and licensed practical nurse.”

“Additional examples of short-term non-degree credentials in healthcare include pharmacy technician, medical assistant, emergency medical technician, and sterile processing,” she said. All of these credentials can lead to “high-value jobs on their own and many of which can stack to next-level educational attainment leading to higher wage career opportunities.”

The state also wants to help potential learners differentiate valuable credentials from those that are not worth pursuing, Orihuela said.

“In 2022, Credential Engine reported more than one million credentials offered by almost 60,000 providers,” she said. “In this landscape, it is difficult for learners and those that support them to discern which credentials to pursue for the greatest return on investment.”

The state developed a “tool” for evaluating programs.

“We hope the tool will provide greater clarity regarding credentials of value for Colorado learner/earners as they seek their next-level education and career opportunities,” Orihuela said.

MORE: Texas will study how to support degree alternatives

The state has passed several bills recently dedicating money to increasing credential access.

This includes a 2022 bill allocating $26 million for healthcare credentials. The program is now called Care Forward Colorado.

Another bill put aside $38.6 million toward free training for in-demand labor, including in education, construction, and law enforcement. That 2023 bill also provided $5 million “for short-term degree nursing programs,” according to the legislation.

The payoff is there, according to the state. “Short-term credentials and associate degrees result in a 31.5% increase in median wage levels, while bachelor’s degrees provide a nearly 50% increase,” an accompanying news release stated.

The state also found “88% of employers have job openings that are seeking skilled workers (relative to 19% of openings seeking unskilled talent)” and “90% of employers stated they could not find the skills they need across job seekers.”

“With nearly 90% of these types of employers seeking skilled talent, acquiring postsecondary attainment that allows individuals to gain knowledge and experience in their field of choice has never been more critical to the success of Colorado.”

MORE: Idaho community college proposes bachelor’s degree focused on real skills

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Morgan Kromer is a student at Columbia College Chicago where she studies journalism. Previously she was an associate editor at Missouri Baptist University’s student news organization.