Earning a vocational certificate is the only reliable way to get unprepared, reasonably low-achieving students on the path to a steady job and a good salary. According to a piece in The Hechinger Report’s Community College Spotlight:

“Some college” doesn’t help drop-outs get a job. An associate degree in general education doesn’t help, unless it’s used to earn a bachelor’s. By contrast, earning a vocational certificate that takes a year or more boosts employment and earnings, Certificates “can deliver greater income returns than associate and even some bachelor’s degrees….” That’s especially true for certificates in health-care fields, such as licensed practical nurse or pharmacy technician, which make up 43 percent of the total awarded. Certificates in technology, construction trades, and mechanic and repair trades also raise earnings.

This is according to a report released by Complete College America earlier this week.

Community colleges offer some work-based certificates; for-profit schools offer more of them. Students are also more likely to complete such programs, since there’s an immediate payoff in that they can earn higher wages almost immediately upon completion.

This report echoes the policy recommendations of a Monthly article from May/June 2010 written by Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones (Jones is president of Complete College America).

High quality jobs certificates in many ways appear to be the most reliable, and inexpensive, way to help people get good jobs and make more money. And yet, for many high school students, accessing a good certificate program is actually more difficult than applying to college. It’s probably time to change that.

One of President Obama’s stated education goals is to make the United States first in college attainment. Job certificates might well be the best way to really accomplish that goal.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer