Earning a Professional Certificate, Not a Degree

Universities around the United States are hurtling into the business of providing students professional certificates. The University of Phoenix and other for-profit providers, along with community colleges, were once the bastion of professional certificates. However, today, mainstream colleges and universities are leading the way in this expanding educational program.

Workers are earning professional certificates because they can be updated more rapidly than traditional academic degrees. Moreover, professional certificates can aid workers in keeping up with rapid-evolving fields such as information technology and intelligence. Finally, professional certificates can help workers get hired, get raises or get promotions.

From the perspective of a university, the primary reason for the mega-growth of professional certificates is that they bring in revenue. This revenue doesn't require financial aid because mid-career students or their respective employers pay for the tuition. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that $140 billion a year is spent on formal career-training nationwide. More importantly, about 40% of this spending is funneled into educational institutions. From the student's angle, the benefit of a professional certificate helps to distinguish them from other candidates for scarce jobs. Thus, many undergraduates are stacking professional certificates with their academic degrees.

The trend in selecting a professional certificate program seems to be accreditation. ANSI, the American National Standards Institute is already developing standards for professional certificate programs because some government agencies won't recognize professional certificate programs unless they are accredited by ANSI.


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