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The Labor-Market Returns to Community College Degrees, Diplomas, and Certificates

University College Dublin and University of KentuckyUniversity of Kentucky and IZAUniversity of Louisville

This article provides one of the first rigorous estimations of the labor-market returns to community college certificates and diplomas, as well as estimations of the returns to the more commonly studied associate’s degrees. Using administrative data from Kentucky, we estimate panel-data models that control for differences among students in precollege earnings and educational aspirations. Associate’s degrees and diplomas have quarterly earnings returns of nearly $2,400 for women and $1,500 for men, compared with much smaller returns for certificates. There is substantial heterogeneity in returns across fields of study. Degrees, diplomas, and—for women—certificates correspond with higher levels of employment.