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Understanding the Relative Value of Alternative Pathways in Postsecondary Education: Evidence From the State of Virginia

By: Di Xu & Jeffrey Fletcher


In this book chapter, the authors replicate and extend analyses completed in other state-wide studies and estimate returns to credentials and credit accumulation for first-time college students who enrolled in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) in 2004–2005 using a classic Mincerian approach. Consistent with previous studies, the authors found positive returns to college-level credits, even among students who did not receive any credential. When accounting for total number of college-level credits accumulated, they found significant “sheepskin effects” to earning an associate degree or higher compared to students who did not receive any credentials, but no consistently positive impacts for long and short certificates. However, analysis by field of study revealed highly differentiated results, both in terms of returns to credits and the “sheepskin” effects. Lastly, the authors found younger and older students differ in their returns to credits and award receipt, which suggests different needs and benefits to education for students at different points in their careers.