Comprehensive look at certificate students

Across the last decade, certificate programs have emerged as a major growth trend in continuing and professional education at colleges and universities. Many adult learners have embraced certificates as a shorter and less expensive alternative to degree programs and have pursued certificates as a means to gain and demonstrate certain skills, competencies and knowledge in the form of a resumé-ready, accredited postsecondary credential.

In its most recent report, “Consumer Preferences for Certificate Programs,” a leading education research and consulting firm found that nearly half of all certificate students are motivated by the outcomes of their program; that is, they view certificates as a tool to facilitate changing careers or to meet minimum entry requirements or continuing education requirements in a field of employment.

“These priorities emphasize that prospective certificate students are evaluating an institution and program from within a professional rubric, heavily weighted toward professional outcomes, practice orientation and labor market value,” said Sean Gallagher, senior analyst for the Learning Collaborative for Continuing and Professional Education program.

The next most important motivation to pursuing a certificate program was earning a higher education credential. In fact, a strong majority of students in a certificate program – 66.2 percent – indicate that they are interested in counting their certificate credits toward a degree.

In terms of the question of who is pursuing certificate programs, students employed in professional fields and disciplines that are more practice-oriented (e.g., business and finance, architecture, arts, and entertainment) are more receptive to certificates versus those in fields or studying disciplines that highly prioritize educational credentialing in career advancement (e.g., the sciences, engineering and healthcare), who tend to prefer degrees.

“Despite certificate programs representing a major area of investment and revenue for continuing and professional education divisions of colleges and universities, relatively little market research has historically been available in this area. This research identifies emerging opportunities in the certificate market and, most importantly, tests fundamental assumptions about the market value of certificate programs,” says Gallagher.

The report, “Consumer Preferences for Certificate Programs,” is designed to assess the market landscape for certificate programs so colleges and universities can improve the development, positioning and delivery of these programs. The report is the result of a national survey of more than 1,800 certificate-seeking respondents. For more information about this report, contact Peggy Kelleher at 617-532-6015.

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