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Impacts and Perceptions of Career-Focused Education
Gallup Blog

Impacts and Perceptions of Career-Focused Education

by Dawn Royal and Tommy Tran

The high price of a college education and the time associated with obtaining a bachelor's degree are prompting people to seek alternatives to a four-year education. In fact, Gallup has found that four in 10 working college graduates say their work doesn't require a degree.

Cost, time and relevance of courses are some of the reasons why more students in recent years have been enrolling in career education or vocational programs or in associate degree programs. These courses provide a streamlined experience to obtaining the specialized skills necessary to either start their career or to switch jobs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), between 2003 and 2015 the number of sub-baccalaureate occupational credentials increased 44 percent, from about 1.01 million to about 1.46 million -- and about 30% of those are awarded by private-for-profit institutions.

To better understand if the career and vocational education option is a valuable alternative to a traditional four-year education, Gallup worked with Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) to survey a representative sample of its members' alumni. The report -- Toward a Better Future: Exploring Outcomes of Attending Career Colleges and Universities identifies many positive outcomes for these career-school graduates.

Alumni of Career-Focused Colleges Have Positive Employment Outcomes

Gallup's national research has found that the top reason students pursue postsecondary education is to obtain a good job -- more than double the second-most-common motivation of general interest and a love of learning. According to the Gallup study for CECU, 62% of their recent graduates are employed full time by an employer, compared with 54% of students nationally with an associate degree (the study comparison group).

CECU graduates are also more likely to be employed at a faster rate. Half of CECU alumni said they obtained a good job within six months of completing their education, whereas only 29% of the national alumni comparison of associate degree holders say the same.

About how long did it take you to obtain a good job related to your field of study after you completed your education? (Within six months)
CECU Alumni National Associates Degree Alumni Comparison
% %
50 29

Importantly, 52% of CECU graduates, versus 35% of associate degree holders nationally, say their current work is completely related to their major.

Bar graph: Comparison between current work and certificate/degree major for CECU and national alumni.

CECU Alumni Earning 62% More in Income Than Before

One of the more significant findings of this study relates to the monetary value that graduates receive from their career or vocational education. On average, CECU alumni earn about 62% more in median personal income after their graduation from a CECU member institution, moving many of these graduates into the middle class.

Median Annual Personal Income (CECU Alumni)
$27,596 $44,622
Before attending CECU Institution After attending CECU Institution

Majority of CECU Alumni Satisfied With Their Education

CECU alumni were asked about their satisfaction with several aspects of their education. Overall, nearly six in 10 alumni of a CECU member institution are satisfied with the education they received. Nearly six in 10 are satisfied with how well CECU prepared them for their career and, in terms of advocacy, over half would recommend their institution to a family member or friend.

Perceptions of Educational Quality
Satisfied with their education at CECU* Satisfied with how well CECU prepared them for their career* Would recommend their institution to a family member or friend*
% % %
59 57 52
*Rated at least a 7 on a 10-point scale.

Career Education Colleges and Universities

According to the CECU website, Career Education Colleges and Universities is "a membership organization of accredited, postsecondary schools, institutes, colleges and universities that provide career-specific educational programs," and has "about 500 member campuses that educate and support millions of students for employment in over 200 occupational fields."


Vocational education can have more positive outcomes than an associate degree education with respect to workplace outcomes and overall satisfaction. As more postsecondary institutions are grappling with the changing demographics of students and meeting 21st century workforce needs, programs that offer specific career or vocational training may be a viable option. Given the short time frame for completion of a vocational school program, students can take more specialized courses in their field of study that directly tie into their prospective field of employment.

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