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.