MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With traditional four-year college costs soaring and an uncertain job market, scores of students are opting for an alternative type of education.

Certificate programs are now the fastest growing segment of higher education today. Courses range from cosmetology to event planning to project management; it seems there’s a certificate for almost everything.

These programs are generally less expensive and faster than other forms of higher education.  In some cases they could end up earning people more money than those with other types of degrees.

Kimberly Conner said she’s excited to be back in class for her certificate in project management; she knows she’ll finish fast.

“I’m expected to get laid off from my current position.  I wanted to expand and broaden my skill set,” said Conner.

Amit Seth wanted his certificate to compliment the Master’s Degree he’s already earned.

“This is a very fast track program and it gives a lot of information, in depth you know, what tools, techniques,” said Seth.

Experts said soaring costs for education at four-year colleges and an uncertain job market make this alternative very attractive.

“They are designed to be relatively fast, faster even than a two-year associates degree,” said Vice President of American Institute for Research and President of College Measures, Mark Schneider. “They are much more focused on the, on skills and they can be much cheaper than even Associates Degrees from community colleges.”

Enrollment is sky high. Last year, the number of students that earned one-to-two year certificates increased by 56 percent compared to a 15 percent increase in the number of Bachelor’s Degrees and a 25 percent increase in Associate Degrees.

Research shows those holding a certificate may also earn more than graduates of other types of programs, depending on the field.

“The highest paid certificates in all the states we’ve been looking at are in high tech manufacturing, healthcare and construction,” said Schneider.

Jennifer McNelly is president of the Manufacturing Institute which represents many of the nation’s employers. She believes these programs are filling a critical need in America today and sees all types getting in on the certificate craze.

“They’re individuals that could be first step career changers,” said McNelly. “They could be individuals that finished with a high school diploma but didn’t enter directly into post secondary education, or interestingly enough, returning students with baccalaureate degrees looking for skills.”

But there is a concern about the lack of industry-based standards.

“It’s sort of like the wild west in American higher education,” said Schneider.

McNelly said that certificates across the education institutions in this country have no consistency.

“There is no standard and even within states there isn’t necessarily the same content being delivered,” said McNelly.

Education and manufacturing groups are working toward more uniformity. In the meantime, if anyone is considering this kind of education, there are some things you should find out before picking a program.

“The kinds of questions that we need to ask are, ‘What’s the completion rate? How much is it going to cost me? And how much am I going to make at the end of the day?,” said Schenider.

Seth is banking on the benefits, however.

“It will give me all the knowledge which I need and I would definitely recommend this to whomever I know,” said Seth.

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to certificates is some programs are created quickly in response to trends or changes in the economy. But, the concern is if those trends are short-lived, the programs and the specialty could become obsolete.