Value of Certificates by Dean Cathy Sandeen

When we talk about postsecondary education today, we mean more than degree programs. Serious, rigorous, academic postsecondary certificate programs play a big role and are only recently receiving the attention they deserve.

Recent reports and press coverage that address the value of certificate programs reflect this new interest. For example:

Op-ed piece in Politico by the heads of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the Lumina Foundation.

Short piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education reporting the rise of certificate programs to 22% of postsecondary credentials awarded.

A report the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce about the value of certificates.

Certificate programs are appropriate for nearly everyone at all stages of the career span:

  • A recent high school graduate seeking to enter the job market
  • A new college graduate who wants to add practical and applied learning to his/her new BA degree
  • Working professionals who want to refresh their knowledge and progress in their careers
  • Adults who want to transition to a new career

Certificates are a great stepping stone to a degree. (A new report documents this.) Many universities accept credit earned in certificate programs toward degree completion.

We have conducted our own research here at UCLA on hiring managers’ perceptions of postsecondary certificate programs. Earlier this year, we held a series of focus groups spanning a number of industry sectors. We learned that hiring managers . . .

  • View certificate programs favorably when listed on an applicant’s resume in addition to a relevant degree and experience
  • Consider the reputation of the certificate program provider as part of the value of the certificate
  • Acknowledge many disciplines (e.g., information systems, programming, accounting) have well recognized industry specific certificate programs
  • Believe completion of a certificate program indicates an applicant’s willingness to stay current in the field, or as one manager said, “a person who will go the extra mile”

But not all certificates are created equal. The hiring managers who participated in our study acknowledged that one can receive a “certificate” from sitting through a one day seminar. It’s important that we begin to specify what we mean by a full certificate program. Characteristics of quality programs include:

  • Rigorous curriculum designed with advice from industry experts
  • Reputable provider (university-based certificate programs are considered highly reputable)
  • Sufficient length of time (e.g., multiple courses over a span of 1-2 years of part-time study)
  • Practical, relevant, and current knowledge
  • Taught by university faculty or adjunct faculty with a great deal of professional experience
  • Link to an industry or professional organization for additional endorsement
  • Outcome measures to document student learning (exams, projects, grades, transcripts)
  • Academic credit that may be applied to future degree programs

I am happy the current conversation about certificate programs is yielding questions that will lead us to better definitions and understandings. I always have believed in the value of rigorous certificate programs. (Indeed, UCLA Extension rewards an average of 2,000 such certificate per year.) I am glad the rest of the world is catching on.

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Some “Hows” of the Completion Agenda by Dean Cathy Sandeen

We continue to hear more and more (and I have written before) about the postsecondary “completion agenda” in the U.S. In short, roughly 30% of the working adult population currently has completed a bachelors degree or higher. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2018, over 65% of jobs in the U.S. will require a degree or postsecondary certificate.

President Obama called increasing postsecondary attainment our generation’s “Sputnik moment,” drawing an analogy to the moment in John Kennedy’s administration when the Soviet’s launched the world’s first artificial satellite. This original “Sputnik moment” launched the U.S.’s successful race to the moon (something to reflect upon, especially due to the successful landing of the Mars rover, “Curiosity,” not to mention the recent death of Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon).

Today’s “Sputnik moment” has nothing to do with space exploration, of course, but rather the goal to greatly increase the postsecondary education of a large number of Americans within less than a decade.  Many states and organizations are involved in this work and have issued specific goals and objectives, a few reflected here:

President Obama

“President Obama is committed to ensuring that America will regain its lost ground and have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020. The President believes that regardless of educational path after high school, all Americans should be prepared to enroll in at least one year of higher education or job training to better prepare our workforce for a 21st century economy.”

Gates Foundation Complete College America 

“Complete College America has set a goal that by 2020, six out of 10 young adults in our country will have a college degree or certificate of value.”

The College Board 

“Increase the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds who hold an associate degree or higher to 55 percent by the year 2025.”

Lumina Foundation Goal 2025

“To increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.”

The percentages and deadlines vary, but one thing is common among these initiatives:  big numbers and big change. Daunting. How might we accomplish this?

I have discovered a couple of interesting reports published by the Center for American Progresswritten by Louis Soares, that are worth exploring further. Both take ideas from Clay Christensens’ disruptive innovation theories  and focus on using technology to increase and improve student learning outcomes and degree completion. Within traditional higher education, some of these ideas are viewed as somewhat controversial—yes, disruptive.

A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education

Key ideas:

“Competency-based education is an outcomes-based approach to education where the emphasis is on what comes out of postsecondary education—what graduates know and can do—rather than what goes into the curriculum. With a competency-based approach, you do not begin preparing a course syllabus by identifying content and readings. Instead, you begin by identifying competencies and then select the content, readings, and assignments to support student attainment of those competencies” (p. 2).

Examples:

Western Governors University and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative. Technology is employed to help students and faculty assess how well students are mastering various competencies embedded in the course. Data also are used to adapt and refine the course over time.

The ‘Personalization’ of Higher Education

Key ideas:

“Technology will transform higher education as it has many other industries. One of the ways it will cause transformation is through personalization—giving students more power to understand and craft the education experience they want for themselves. This will happen as information technology, or IT, becomes embedded in more and more of the processes that make up going to college such as course enrollment, classroom instruction, and student support services” (p. 1).

Examples:

Technology based “mini tutors” in the Carnegie Mellon Open University Initiative help student master materials. The Saddleback College (California) SHERPA system provides course and schedule recommendations based on student schedules, preferences, degree progression, and learning strengths. The idea is students will learn and progress through their degrees more efficiently with the assistance of new technology that can customize the learning to student strengths and challenges.

Personally, I do not believe technology is the sole solution to the challenges of today’s “Sputnik moment.” Yet these ideas have great potential and are worthy of our attention. Technology and a data-informed approach contributed greatly to getting American astronauts to the moon (and a rover to Mars). It makes sense that the thoughtful application of technology will play a greater role in helping us achieve the massive numbers involved in our national postsecondary completion goals.

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Harnessing Boomer Talent by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Back in 2008, I conducted some research about needs and preferences of continuing professional education students, segmented by generation.  At the time, one result in particular stood out for me: a surprising percentage of respondents from the baby boomer segment indicated they were interested in a “post-retirement career.”

This makes sense. Baby boomers likely will live way past traditional retirement age. Most find great meaning in work and may not want to give that up completely. Some may want to move in a different direction with a new career involving more creativity, a lifelong passion, or with greater positive social impact.

Since 2008, many members of the boomer generation found their retirement portfolios greatly diminished and/or they were laid off from their jobs in declining industries.  This group will continue to work out of economic necessity. See this interesting blog post by Kerry Hannon on why one should consider working until the age of 70.

From the employer side, there would be a tremendous workforce shortage and knowledge capture crisis if all 76 million baby boomers retired “on schedule.” It makes sense for employers to figure out how to harness all available talent. This may require envisioning flexible, part-time, seasonal, or contract employment options.

That brings me to Empowered UCLA Extension, the program featured in the video above. This program was developed specifically to serve the needs of baby boomers with an academically robust, quick, and effective way to gain relevant skills in areas experiencing employment growth. We partnered with a Silicon Valley start-up, headed by entrepreneur, Steve Poizner. This venture allows us to leverage UCLA Extension’s proven professional certificate programs by offering them to a national audience through online delivery of a complete package incluidng career assessment, educational programs, and career search support. And one more thing: We will be the first to offer these services via an iPad app, custom designed by Empowered.

Initial certificates include:

  • College Counseling
  • Financial Planning
  • Global Sustainability
  • Healthcare Management
  • Human Resources
  • IT Management
  • Marketing and New Media
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Project Management
  • And more to follow in the future.

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Where do MOOCs fit in? by Dean Cathy Sandeen

What is a MOOC? It’s a Massive Open Online Course and it’s all the rage in postsecondary education.

Basically, a MOOC is a self-paced online university-level course that is open to anyone and that is provided over the internet at no charge. Recently elite universities began offering MOOCs, including MIT and Harvard (through their collaboration called edX), and Stanford (through its partnership s with two different Silicon Valley start-ups, Coursera and Udacity). MOOCs span many disciplines, though engineering and technology courses dominate.

The ability to enroll and participate in these courses is free. However, documenting participation and successful completion is not free. MOOCs are well-suited to fields where specialized technical expertise is needed, where the student is highly motivated, and where documentation is less important. For example, there is currently a shortage of software developers and programmers. An existing software programmer might be able to gain additional expertise and skills to qualify for a particular position by completing a MOOC.

MOOCs also are well-suited for individuals who want to learn for the sake of learning and who do not care about any form of documentation or credential.

But what about the majority of individuals seeking postsecondary education for career purposes? Some form of documentation or proof that learning has occurred is required in this context. So the question becomes: Where do MOOCs fit into the postsecondary education landscape?

The following is an adaptation of the graphic from my previous post:

Besides providing a new option for non-credit lifelong learning, MOOCs may interact with other components of the landscape at a number of entry points.

For clarity, granting credit generally involves having course content and instructors reviewed by university faculty who are experts in the discipline; integrating valid outcome measures of student learning in the course (usually graded projects and examinations); and having the university or other entity record the student’s performance in the course on an official transcript.

Credit for MOOCs may be granted toward certificate programs through continuing education providers. Credit for MOOCs may be granted via prior learning assessment. Some universities have begun to offer a for-credit option (for a fee) for their own MOOCs. (In this case, the course may be massive and online, but it would not be “open,” i.e., “free.” A MOC, not a MOOC.)

The postsecondary landscape continues to evolve. MOOCs are part of that landscape and they support access and opportunity and multiple paths of entry for students pursuing advanced education. Right now, not surprisingly, the path for MOOCs seems to rest in the more non-traditional components of the system. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

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Postsecondary Education Landscape by Dean Cathy Sandeen

There’s a shift in the higher education landscape. Or maybe it’s an expansion.  If we look at the entire landscape of postsecondary education—and not only traditional degrees—the picture is big, dynamic, and evolving.

But most importantly, I believe, the system is inclusive. The new postsecondary landscape offers multiple entry points, many formats, recognition for different forms of learning, and the ability to compound learning over time.  My first try with the following chart attempts to capture this environment.

The purple colored boxes represent what we have traditionally thought of as postsecondary education. These are various levels of college and university degrees, followed by some form of continuing education after degree attainment. (Any of these might be full-time or part-time, classroom-based or online.)

As you can see, this chart has a lot more than just the purple boxes.

At the top, in a red tone, are professional certificate programs. (I’ve also heard certificates referred to as “stand alone minors,” that is equivalent to a minor in a traditional degree.) These might be completed at any time during the postsecondary cycle of one’s life. One might start with a stand-alone certificate and work for a while. Then he or she might earn another related certificate and/or begin a degree program. Or, completion of a certificate might go in the reverse with an individual earning a degree (or two) first, then completing one or more certificates. Ideally, certificates are “stackable,” meaning they build competencies in a logical sequence and relate to one another. Most will be career related. Many also articulate into degrees—credit for certificates may be applied toward a degree.

Licensure and/or credentialing (light aqua blue box) fits here as well. These are usually provided by state agencies or outside professional associations and are sometimes mandatory to work in a field (e.g. law, medicine, real estate, etc.)

The blue toned boxes at the bottom represent prior learning assessment. Prior learning assessment—assigning academic credit for learning that occurs outside the classroom—has been around for a long time, but it is just recently coming into the spotlight. See recent Inside Higher Ed article here. Prior learning assessment is an increasingly important entry point into the postsecondary landscape for many individuals. For example, think about a member of the military who receives some credit for high level technical training completed as part of his or her service and then using this credit to jump-start completion of a degree program.

At the far right, what I’ve labeled “Lifelong Learning” represents learning for enjoyment and enrichment without a specific career goal in mind. The growing number of learning in retirement programs is one example of this category of postsecondary education, though it occurs at any time during the postsecondary life cycle. Lifelong learning may occur at a university, or at a museum, through an open online course, or any number of avenues.

The various arrows show possible connections and articulations among different components of the system. I acknowledge it is fairly simple to draw in the arrows. Forming real connections and pathways among real institutions and types of education will be more of a challenge.

When we talk about increasing postsecondary education completion in the US, this dynamic system is enormously promising.  Multiple pathways and entry points. Making every academic achievement count. Allowing growth and change over time.

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The Other 40% by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I have written many posts about the importance of a four-year degree, the economic value of education, and the need for liberal arts skills. I also have written about President Obama’s completion agenda to increase US educational attainment at the secondary and postsecondary levels. I remain steadfast in my support of and advocacy for all these ideas.

I also wrote about “Industrial Darwinism,” an observation that employment in growing industries tend to require higher level thinking. Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2018 over 60% of US jobs will require postsecondary education, particularly a college education.

However, a question continues to trouble me: What about the other 40% of jobs? And, what about the individuals in those 40% of US jobs that do not require a college degree?

                                                                 

Manpower Group conducts an annual survey of the 10 hardest jobs to fill in the US. This year the list included: Skilled Trades (e.g. welding and construction), Drivers, Mechanics, and Machinist/Machine Operators. Those same jobs appeared regularly in previous years as well. Yes, that’s right. There are well paying jobs out there that do not necessarily require a college degree.

To further reinforce this dynamic, check out this great visualization by GE of US Job Trends from 1960 to 2011. Note as we move from 1960 closer to 2011, manufacturing jobs decrease dramatically (no surprise) and other sectors emerge, grow or contract. But the “Trades, Transportation, and Utilities” sector increases to become the largest, encompassing 25 million workers in 2011.

Such jobs are important to our economy and I submit that they have not remained static, but like everything else, have morphed and changed over time. The majority of jobs in the 40% require high level technical skills and higher level thinking—skills not taught in high school or not easily learned on the job.

It’s difficult to think of one job that has not become more technical and complex.

  • Manufacturing uses robotics.
  • Delivery truck drivers use tracking devices. 
  • Auto repair involves complex computer systems.
  • Custodial work requires handling and disposal of hazardous materials.
  • Childcare workers require knowledge of human growth and development.
  • Customer service and communication skills span most every job.
  • Bilingual abilities are required in most regions.
  • Let’s not forget the skills needed to start a small business.

Because of this, I like the shift in our thinking and rhetoric toward postsecondary education in all its forms including certificates and certifications as well as four-year degrees. And this broader notion of postsecondary education encompasses a way to serve the workforce in that 40% of non-college jobs.

The bottom line is this: To remain competitive the US needs to figure out how to provide postsecondary education at some level to nearly all the US workforce, those in the 60% that will require a college degree as well as the other 40%.

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The Morrill Act is Part of our DNA by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Today is the anniversary of the passage of a key piece of higher education legislation in the U.S.  To commemorate this, I would like to pass along excerpts from a message I received from Gene D. Block, Chancellor of UCLA and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities:

“One hundred fifty years ago today, on July 2, 1862, in the cruel crucible of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law. Often referred to as the Land-Grant College Act, the law was a major milestone in expanding and democratizing American public higher education. . . .

Prior to 1862, the benefits of a college education were reserved for a very small percentage of the population. The Morrill Act expanded access to higher education to all segments of society, not just the sons of the privileged elite. Throughout the 20th century, as land-grant colleges and other public universities spread throughout the country, college enrollment among 18-to-22-year-olds rose steadily, and so too did our level of prosperity, both in California and across the nation. . . .

One of my favorite quotes about education comes from a 1786 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote, “Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement rising out of a democracy of opportunity.”

Those words—a democracy of opportunity—so eloquently describe the dream of public higher education. Let us draw inspiration from the vision and courage of the leaders who enacted the Morrill Act, and let us uphold its bold promise.”

An important message for us all to think about and remember.

Of course, post-secondary education is now increasingly accessible to nontraditional students and in nontraditional formats. As part of our DNA in U.S. postsecondary education, the groundbreaking Morrill Act lives on and continues to have an impact.

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