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What the Evidence Says

Supporters and opponents each cite research they claim supports their arguments about the effectiveness of career-connected learning in placing graduates in higher paying jobs. So, what does the evidence actually say?

A rigorous review of 17 existing studies and subsequent analysis using three separate government datasets was performed by the Urban Institute. The review notes that given the great variety in programs, there is substantial variability in how effectively they place graduates in jobs that pay better. Still, on average the review found a 10% increase in earnings across the data. This comprehensive review of much of the existing evidence also confirms several factors associated with poorer outcomes. In general, the shorter the program, the less graduates’ earnings increase. Programs provided by for-profit institutions tend to generate less value than those from community colleges, and significant differences exist in the returns to certificates depending on the field of study.

One of the studies most often cited by opponents of CCL is one published by the Brookings Institution after the Urban Institute review was conducted. The recent Brookings study investigated short-term programs eligible for federal student loans. The study’s results indicate graduates of these short-term certificate programs do not earn more than the average 25-34-year-old with just a high school degree. This study examines the results for a sample 103 short-term programs, of which 74 are for-profit institutions, 25 public institutions, and four private non-profits. Of the 103 programs assessed, 47 were in cosmetology, which is one of the fields where earnings increases are the lowest. Additionally, for-profits were found to offer certificates that led to generally lower earnings than those offered by public institutions. Given the sample of programs studied, the Brookings’ findings are basically consistent with the Urban Institute’s findings discussed above.