This paper provides the first detailed empirical evidence of the labor-market returns to community college diplomas and certificates. Using detailed administrative data from Kentucky, we estimate panel-data models that control for differences among students in pre-college earnings and educational aspirations. Associate’s degrees and diplomas have quarterly earnings returns of nearly $2,000 for women, compared to returns of approximately $1,500 for men. Certificates have small positive returns for men and women in most specifications.
As labor markets tightened in the last half of the nineties, economic development and community leaders sought to identify more locally available workers than were indicated by published statistics. Using results from commissioned surveys, they pointed to large numbers of part-time workers who desired full-time work, and to full-time workers who were qualified for better jobs. These statistics were often used to negate low official unemployment rates that deterred firms, concerned by the ostensible shortage of workers, from locating in their counties.