Certificates finally get their due

Certificates finally get their due.

 Do you ever have one of those weeks where a challenge is issued at the beginning of the week, and then near the end of the week a there comes a blast of insight (in my case usually not my own but from someone else) that helps you address the challenge?  As you might guess, I just had one of those weeks.

The Challenge:

Like many states, the Commonwealth of Virginia is looking for ways to enhance our economic development through job creation.  To that end, the Commonwealth’s Governor McDonnell established the Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment.  I’m confident that many of your states have created similar commissions.  The Governor’s Commission announced their “draft” report earlier this week.

The recommendations from the Commission for preparing Virginians for the “Top Jobs of the 21st Century” fall under three areas:

  • Economic Opportunity – fostering economic growth through educational achievement leading to earning power; one goal is having 100,000 more Virginians with a degree.
  • Reform-Based Investment – preserve and extend excellence in higher education while instituting reforms that extend access.
  • Affordable Access – ensuring that those we serve have access and that it is affordable.

 The Blast of Insight:

Sometimes insights into how to address a challenge come when you least expect it, and that was the recent report from Complete College America, “Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-baccalaureate Certificates.”  In their report they argue that higher education institutions need to provide a variety of pathways for “college completion.”  And one of the “too often underutilized strategies” is the certificate program. 

Certificate programs offer the advantages of being tailored to a specific job market, can be designed in a timely fashion, provide “portable skills and knowledge” and create a “solid foundation for future academic success.”  The report’s conclusion is: “overall, high quality certificate programs can significantly boost the likelihood of student achievement and career success.”

They do, however, provide a buyer beware caveat.   That is, not all certificates are created equal.   Certificates that were most positively linked to increased earnings are long-term rigorous programs that are targeted to specific job markets.

The report concludes by asking two very good questions.  One, if completing a certificate positively impacts career success, shouldn’t certificates also be used as an attainment goals, similar to degrees?  This would be in response to President Obama’s “Restore America’s Leadership in Higher Education” challenge and Virginia’s Grow by Degrees initiative.  Two, if completing certificates is positively related to career success, wouldn’t it make sense to direct state and national funding to support them?


One of things my blog allows (probably forces) me to do is to connect the dots between my  unit’s short and long-range planning with the “environmental” scanning that we all do.  And here is what is really cool about the “Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-baccalaureate Certificates” report, it validates for me what many of us have been doing for some time. We’ve used certificate programming to first provide a focused curriculum for a specific workforce need and then use the certificates as building blocks towards a degree.  I remember Roger Whitaker presenting about this idea four or five years ago at one of our annual meetings. 

This sort of validation is a giddy up in my book.

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