Your Employees Really Don’t Need to Get a College Degree…

May 14, 2012 at 8:59 am
Filed under: tuition assistance

Or do they?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am a former college administrator who places an extremely high value on higher education. And as director of the advising team here at EdAssist, my primary role is to present higher education options to thousands of employees each year who are looking to advance their career. But the key word there is “options.”  It doesn’t always have to be about the college degree.

Changing Demand in the Ideas Economy

More than ever before, colleges and universities are reacting to the demand of the market place, and creating programs that focus on tangible outcomes for the adult learner. A recent article in the Boston Globe highlighted the dramatic rise in colleges and universities who are now offering certificate programs to supplement their traditional degrees. Because of the need for job-relevant training across industries such as healthcare, business, and design, the idea of getting practical training quickly (and at a fraction of the cost of a degree program) is appealing to both employees, and their employers.

Companies nationwide are now looking at their own tuition assistance policies, and evaluating the benefits of adding certificate programs and designations to their list of approved reimbursable education options. We are often asked by employers whether or not we would recommend their employees to pursue certificate program options instead of degrees. And the answer is always the same: It just depends.

A Smart Option, With Room for Balance

Certificate programs serve a very specific purpose. They allow students to focus in on a specific area of interest, and provide them with in-depth training in that subject. They do not replace the breadth of knowledge that a degree program offers, but rather, engage the student in fast, career-relevant training that can complement their existing knowledge base. It’s a quick, affordable way to add training and new credentials to one’s portfolio.

From an employer perspective, I think it makes sense to include certificate programs as part of corporate tuition assistance programs, as long as they are vetted, and offered by an accredited institution or recognized vendor. The courses in these programs are often taught by the same faculty that teach in corresponding degree programs within that same institution, and usually include the same curriculum. And while my guess is that most employees would love to have expensive degrees such as MBA’s covered by their employers, the thought of two to five years of study (depending on the program), while maintaining work/life balance, may be bit overwhelming for some. In those cases, it may be in the employer’s best interest to provide quicker, less expensive alternatives which can lead to faster application of skills on the job.

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Comments (3)

  1. May 15, 2012 6:41 pm

    Donna wrote:

    Unless you’re a teacher… then a Master’s degree is required! And the first thing that gets cut out of the budget is tuition reimbursement.

  2. May 15, 2012 9:41 pm

    Phil Conroy wrote:

    Skills on demand. A very employer focused approach to education. Just add it to the supply chain, steel, plastic, educational skills. All for the benefit of the large employer. This approach does not help develop the critical and creative skills needed for entrepreneurial enterprises or new businesses. The cogs in a wheel approach to educational skills does not help with the development of new businesses. It creates a sub-class of employees further dividing the upper middle class and the working class.

  3. May 17, 2012 11:50 am

    JayTitus wrote:

    Great comments! Donna, I agree. But the difference really comes down to the experienced working adult looking to advance their career vs. someone learning a new field, that has specific requirements. For a teacher, The Masters degree is a must. But once the Masters degree is attained, learning shouldn’t stop. It’s the very reason that teachers need to take professional development courses to keep current, and not new degrees after their masters.

    Dr. Conroy, I agree with your comment as well. But as I pointed out though, the certificate/training/designation should be viewed as something that enhances a persons skillset. It should not replace a degree program, as it does not provide the same depth of knowledge across subjects.

    For someone starting a business, or entering a new market, I agree that having a degree that provides a foundation across disciplines is critical. But for the experienced, working professional (who has their Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate), will an advanced/second degree serve them better than a shorter term option that provides technical skills right away? I think the real difference comes down to what a person wants to accomplish and what the requirements are in that particular industry. I think too often though, people assume that a new degree is their only option.But as the article in the Globe pointed out, it appears that colleges, universities, and even the corporate sector are now saying there are alternatives.