Professional Certificates versus Community College Degrees

Students across the U.S. are finding that Professional Certificates are a faster, more affordable path to obtaining job ready skills for the workforce.  While Community College degrees have their unique set of benefits, a professional certification has become more popular than ever in our skills-based hiring world.  In fact, a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that “even with the decline in manufacturing employment, there are some 30 million good jobs in the economy, paying an average of $55,000 per year, for those without a four-year degree.”  The demand for workers with critical job skills is stronger than ever, so let’s dissect the pros and cons of Professional Certificates versus Community College Degrees.

The demand for job skills

When looking at today’s job market, it is important to ask “why are there still so many people unemployed?”  While Covid and labor market factors have certainly effected the rise in unemployment, many employers have been struggling with finding skilled workers for some time.

Employers need workers who can come onto the job and fill a skilled position.  This often requires additional training beyond what a Community College may offer.  A CNN Money report detailing the shortage of skilled workers is still relevant today as employers struggle to find community college graduates with the high demand skills they need immediately.   Professional certificates are a way for all types of students to fill in the gaps of their degree programs with the skills that will actually get them hired.

Timeline matters

For a student looking to gain job skills, the timing of their program is critical.  Many two-year and four-year programs are simply too long for someone who is struggling to find work today.  Professional certificates can often be completed closer to a 6 month to 1-year timeline.  And many professional certificates allow for flexible scheduling options such as night and evening classes, which allows busy adults to take care of other commitments like family or a day job.  With online training available, students may now attend from anywhere and interact with their instructors like never before including online meetings, screen sharing, and video calls. 

Professional Certificates versus Community College

Upskilling your Career

For those that have already completed a degree, it is daunting to consider another multi-year commitment to find the latest job-ready skills that an employer needs.  The idea of “upskilling” or modernizing your skills has become popular recently.  It represents the idea that your degree has taught you many fundamental skills, but professional certificates can add to those skills to make you even more relevant to employers in the workforce.  Many college graduates use professional certificates to fill in gaps in their resume and let employers know that their skills are current.  Employers want to know that a candidate is going to bring an immense value to their company, and a skills based certificate is one of the best ways to validate this.

Comparing Length & Costs

When you pursue a professional certification to boost your education, you also may save quite a bit of money in the end to get the skills you need.  Let’s compare the following:

  • Average Community College or University Semester = 40 total hours over 16 weeks
  • Average DWC Certificate Program = 95 hours over 24 weeks
  • Average cost of one semester = $37,650 at private colleges or $10,560 at public colleges
  • Average cost of a professional certification program = $6,555*

*includes extensive support, mentoring, and materials.

Choosing the right program

There are several factors to consider when reviewing professional certificates from schools in your area.  First, consider your local workforce as the playing field you are trying to compete within.  You have to do your research to know if your area is hiring for the skills that your certificate program will teach you.  There are more opportunities than ever for online and remote positions, so you may be able to think broadly when considering where you can work.  However, to know if a program is right for you, you have to know what opportunities there are.  So, do your research into the workforce or talk to your local workforce center to learn more.

Next, know the positions you are trying to ultimately go after.  You should almost reverse engineer the next move of your career path.  Start by knowing the job positions thoroughly, and then understand what job skills you need in order to be a strong candidate for that position.  As you review your personal job skills, see what is missing from your resume.  If you find a professional certificate that is teaching you the skills you are missing or that you need to enhance your resume to be a better candidate, then you know this  professional certificate is right for you.

Last, consider what additional benefits a certificate program may have included in their programs.  You want to leave a program with as much tangible work added to your portfolio as possible, so look for project-based work when relevant to your career path such as graphic design, web design, or marketing.  A lot of schools offer career counseling as a way for you to get additional support as you reinvent your career skills and look towards the next step.

Professional Certificates versus Community College 03


When job searching, every student needs to consider their own individual factors that will help lead them towards a new career in the best possible way.  Professional Certificates have become a recognized method for students to upskill, reskill, or simply launch a new career.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of certificate programs, talk to a student advisor today to learn more.

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