Certificates for professional education are increasingly in demand. This message has appeared in the last several months in places like the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education, to name but two. These certificates of completion of a series of classes on particular subjects, such as Project Management or Organizational Development or a host of other subjects, are useful because they focus attendees on particular subjects. These certificates are given for both credit and non-credit classes. The key is that individuals, and often their employers, want workers to have specific knowledge and skills. Certificates make the acquisition of such knowledge and skills more efficient.
Those of us in continuing education have been proponents of concentrated activity around specific areas of knowledge and skills. We know that degrees are very important, but we also think that degrees are not the solution to many workplace needs. In some cases, what is needed are several credit classes that are combined to thoroughly cover one topic. Someone in Washington, DC, for example, might benefit from a series of courses from different academic departments that prepare individuals for deployment to the Middle East. More common across the globe are individuals who must juggle many projects in many different lines of work. They benefit from a series of classes on project management. Such a topic can be covered in a sixteen-week academic class or a series of ten, one-day, non-credit classes.
I have a particular bias toward non-credit, in part because that is by far the majority of classes that we offer at the School of Continuing Education, but individual classes also let people work with bite-size nuggets of information that they can immediately apply and master at their places of work. That mastery then leads to the next bite of knowledge, which further enlarges their skill set. An additional advantage of the multi-course, non-credit approach is that it is flexible in terms of when one covers particular topics. Such classes are not lockstep, week-by-week, a pattern that does not match many individuals’ work flows.
In an age of rapidly changing activities and assignments, certificates give employees and employers the ability to meet future needs quickly and efficiently. Yes, degrees are important, but certificates are a critical component of professional development.