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Beyond BA Blinders: Lessons from Occupational Colleges and Certificate Programs for Nontraditional Students


  • James E. Rosenbaum
  • Janet Rosenbaum


Postsecondary education mostly focuses on the four-year BA degree. Community colleges are often promoted as the first step toward the ultimate goal of a four-year degree. However, community colleges have extremely poor degree completion rates. There is evidence suggesting better results for their private, two-year counterparts -- particularly for certificate completion. We will focus on occupational colleges -- private accredited colleges that offer career preparation in occupational fields like health care, business, information technology, and others. These institutions challenge many of our preconceptions about college. They are less wedded to college traditions, which raises some interesting questions: Do private colleges offering certificates or AA degrees use different procedures? Should community colleges consider some of these procedures to reduce student difficulties and improve their completion rates? For many community college students, earning a more likely, quick sub-BA credential -- perhaps followed by a four-year degree in the future -- will be preferable to the relatively unlikely pathway from a community college program directly to a four-year BA. In sum, this paper suggests that nontraditional colleges and nontraditional credentials (certificates and AA degrees) deserve much closer attention from researchers, policymakers, and students.

Suggested Citation

  • James E. Rosenbaum & Janet Rosenbaum, 2013. "Beyond BA Blinders: Lessons from Occupational Colleges and Certificate Programs for Nontraditional Students," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 153-172, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:2:p:153-72
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.2.153

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    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Balestra, Simone & Backes-Gellner, Uschi, 2017. "Heterogeneous returns to education over the wage distribution: Who profits the most?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 89-105.
    2. Duncan McVicar & Cain Polidano, 2015. "If You Get What You Want, Do You Get What You Need? Course Choice and Achievement Effects of a Vocational Education and Training Voucher Scheme," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2015n06, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    3. Baker, Rachel & Bettinger, Eric & Jacob, Brian & Marinescu, Ioana, 2018. "The Effect of Labor Market Information on Community College Students’ Major Choice," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 18-30.
    4. Ann Huff Stevens & Michal Kurlaender & Michel Grosz, 2015. "Career Technical Education and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from California Community Colleges," NBER Working Papers 21137, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


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