Publications / Policy Proposal

Forget “free college.” How about “free credentials?”

By / 10.16.2017

A four-year degree is not the only path to middle-class security. High-quality occupational credentialing opportunities deserve equal standing and federal support.

Many progressives believe “free college” to be the best way of helping more Americans achieve economic mobility and security. On average, workers with four-year degrees enjoy greater earnings and job security than high school graduates,1 and it’s axiomatic that most future jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education.2 Free college, the logic goes, would ensure that more Americans share in the fruits of an economy where skills are increasingly at a premium.

This desire to tackle what many see as a root cause of growing inequality was a big reason “free college” figured so prominently in the presidential campaigns of both Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016. No doubt the idea will re-emerge in 2020.

But the single-minded focus on college diminishes other, equally viable paths to middle-class security – such as in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing and other skilled professions – that require specialized occupational “credentials” but no four-year degree.


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