A recent report by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan policy think tank, and researchers at the University of Michigan suggests that low-income students are more likely to earn stackable credentials than their peers.
The report focuses on two states, Ohio and Colorado. It found that 39 percent of low-income Colorado learners who earned certificates earned a second credential within three years, compared to 33 percent of middle-income and high-income learners who held certificates. Meanwhile, 43 percent of low-income certificate earners in Ohio completed a second credential in that time period compared to 36 percent of their higher-income counterparts.
Low-income students in the two states also had slightly higher rates of vertical stacking, pursuing an additional higher-level credential, which led to significant wage gains, according to the report. Vertical stackers made up 58 percent of low-income stackers in Colorado and 65 percent of low-income stackers in Ohio, compared to 55 percent and 63 percent of higher-income stackers, respectively.
Fewer than 20 percent of low-income vertical stackers in Ohio and Colorado earned a middle-income wage at the time of their first certificate, but six years later, almost 80 percent earned a middle-income wage. However, horizontal stacking—earning another credential at the same level—didn’t yield much of an earnings boost for these students.
Low-income certificate earners also tended to be concentrated in some of the fields with fewer stacking opportunities and less likelihood of leading to middle-income wages, such as culinary programs. They were also underrepresented in fields where stacking is more common and results in higher wage gains, such as information technology.
The report makes a number of recommendations to state and college officials, including that they work to raise awareness among low-income students and students from underrepresented backgrounds about stackable credential options and their value through college advising and career services and other means.