Publication How Should Federal Policymakers Hold Short-Term Credential Programs Accountable?
Kathryn Blanchard
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Short-term postsecondary credentials can help students improve their job opportunities at a lower cost than traditional degree programs. Many graduates, however, struggle in the labor market.

Current policy holds short-term certificate programs accountable by providing their students access to federal loans only if the program passes the 70-70 requirement, indicating the program has completion and job placement rates of at least 70 percent. But the poor average outcomes of many programs that meet current standards for accessing federal loans indicate that current accountability metrics may not be strict enough to protect borrowers from making poor investments.

Key Findings

  • Two years after completion, the average annual earnings for short-term credential graduates are $22,793.
  • Of the 245 examined programs, the average of the median reported earnings over all the programs that pass the 70-70 requirement is $20,737. Programs that failed the 70-70 requirement had average median earnings of $21,754.
  • Including programs that failed for reasons other than failing the 70-70 requirement, such as finances, shows that average median earnings in programs that passed are $23,789, while the average median earnings in programs that failed at least one requirement are $19,662.


The data show that these reported completion and placement rates do not always correspond with earnings gains and the ability to pay back student loans for students in certificate programs. This mismatch between program outcomes and graduates’ experiences could indicate that the reported completion and job placement rates are unreliable or that these outcomes are not related to earnings data.

One way to address the mismatch is by using more standardized, reliable data and metrics to protect students. Policymakers can begin by standardizing the definition and reporting processes of completion and job placement rates. The 70-70 requirement could be made more effective through different data collection, but including other metrics, like the proposed addition of an earnings threshold to the 2014 Gainful Employment regulations, could enable safer borrowing for students. By supplementing these rates with graduates’ official earnings data, policymakers can estimate whether these students are better off than they likely would have been with solely a high school diploma. Reevaluating these measures will protect student borrowers and help lead them toward future success.

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Additional Resources

Short-Term Pell Grants Must Be Designed to Protect Students, Taxpayers

Research Areas Education
Tags Paying for college Postsecondary education and training
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy