Postsecondary Certificates and Faculty Composition

Insights Report
Research Dialogue

As certificate awards granted by public postsecondary institutions have expanded over the past 20 years, how has the faculty workforce changed?


Spurred by policy initiatives and student demand, certificate programs have proliferated nationally, currently accounting for about one out of every four postsecondary credentials awarded. Programs lasting less than a year have experienced particularly rapid growth, with many focused on helping students acquire workforce-relevant, discrete skills. Yet, the research evidence on non-degree credentials is relatively limited, despite a notable policy push to expand their availability. This paper evaluates how this trend is affecting higher education. 

Key Insights

  • The share of faculty on the tenure track, with a professorial title, has declined over time at the institutions studied.
  • The number of certificates conferred by the public community college system substantially increased, whereas the number of associate degrees remained relatively flat.
  • In institutions with more prominent certificate granting, faculty are less likely to be tenure track, have an advanced degree, or have a professorial title.

The growth in certificate programs is associated with a higher proportion of contingent faculty, with potential negative implications for students, faculty and, more broadly, scientific progress.


Studying Kentucky as a microcosm of a larger trend, the authors integrate three educational data sets to examine faculty composition and pursuit of certificates at the state’s postsecondary institutions.

Number of faculty in Kentucky community college system by appointment type


Rajeev Darolia

University of Kentucky

Youngran Kim

Michigan State University

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