Category Archives: Creativity and Innovation

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.


Massively Big Thinking by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I recently ran across some notes I made when I attended the American Council on Education (ACE) annual meeting earlier this year. ACE is the premier umbrella organization representing all segments of higher education. The organization generally draws well known speakers and big thinkers to its events and its 2012 conference was no exception.


Two talks from the meeting stood out in my mind: Sal Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy and Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University (See slides from their talks here: Khan: The Khan Academy: Empowering People Through Knowledge and Crow: Urgency Required: Institutional Innovation in American Higher Education.)

On the face of it, these two leaders could not be more different. One is at the forefront of the open course movement, focused on tutorials mainly for K-12 students, and the other leads a traditional public research university. I was somewhat surprised to see their messages converged on some common themes, themes I believe are important for those of us thinking about an educational innovation.

Massive scale.  A darling of the news media, The Khan Academy has grown to a massive scale providing open access to various tutorials as a supplement to formal education. As of March 2012, Khan reported his Academy had delivered 125 million lessons to its users.

With over 70,000 students, Crow already leads the largest traditional brick and mortar university in the U.S.

Access. Both see educational success as a means of social justice and mobility and are committed to providing a high level of access.

Student success. Both keep student success at the center of what they do. The Khan Academy began as a way for Sal Khan to help his cousins perform better at math and science. ASU’s organizational goals include at the top of the list quantitative measures of student success, operationalized as persistence and graduation rate.

Data informed. Both measure impact quantitatively and change direction based on data.

New models. The Khan Academy is completely online, open, free, self -directed, and though extremely simple, represents an innovation in tutoring. The Academy has partnered with a school district in Silicon Valley to integrate tutorials into K-12 teaching and learning models.

With its massive scale, ASU naturally provides a high degree of access, including online programs. Despite its scale, the institution also is a leader in assessment and in measuring moving the dial to improve student learning outcomes.

Massive change.  In their own ways both organizations address massive change needed to improve educational attainment. Crow reminded us that goals for improved educational attainment by 2020 for the U.S. population include 100% high school graduation and 50% completion of postsecondary degree or certification.

By way of comparison, according to the National Center for Education Statistics , as of March 2011, 87.6% of the total U.S. population age 25 years or older had completed high school or higher and 30.4% had completed a bachelors degree or higher. The gaps may not seem so large, but increasing completion rates does not occur overnight.

Massive change is needed to achieve goals by 2020. President Crow cautions the U.S. education community against “filiopietism: of or relating to an often excessive veneration of ancestors or tradition (Merriam-Webster)” or (in my words now) a reluctance to innovate.

Any differences?

Yes, a few. For one, The Khan Academy developed its approach and impact in a bottom-up, grassroots, organic way. ASU, as embodied under President Crow’s leadership, developed its approach and impact in a more planned, strategic way.

Two big players. Different student segments. Different methods. Similar conclusions. Important lessons to keep in mind.


The Four-Year Career by Dean Cathy Sandeen


 I read an interesting article in Fast Company last month called The Four-Year Career.

The article highlights a very important trend—reduction in the average tenure one has in a job. This is probably not a temporary trend brought about by our recent economic downturn, but a practice that’s here to stay.  Further, individuals are not just changing jobs within a single industry. There’s a growing trend for people to make massive career shifts through their life time. The Fast Company article highlights a few of these paths.

Other interesting points from the article that resonated with me:

“According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s. This decline in average job tenure is bigger than any economic cycle, bigger than any particular industry, bigger than differences in education levels, and bigger than differences in gender.  . . .  Statistically, the shortening of the job cycle has been driven by two factors. The first is a marked decline in the “long job”–that is, the traditional 20-year capstone to a career. Simultaneously, there’s been an increase in “churning”– workers well into their thirties who have been at their current job for less than a year.”

“Shorter job tenure is associated with a new era of insecurity, volatility, and risk. It’s part of the same employment picture as the increase in part-time, freelance, and contract work; mass layoffs and buyouts; and “creative destruction” within industries. All these changes put more pressure on the individual–to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date.”

The Institute [for the Future], a Silicon Valley-based think tank, has been researching future work skills for a decade. [Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute] says, “It’s much harder than it used to be to predict what jobs are going to be around in 10 years.” Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can offer a false confidence. “They can say that health care is a growing sector, but exactly what the jobs are going to be, you don’t know.” In looking ahead to 2020, Gorbis’s institute identified big drivers of change such as extended longevity, robotics, and the rise of global connectivity. Then it extrapolated a list of core skills that will be needed in tomorrow’s workplace regardless of industry or position.”

Transdisciplinary skills

The article stresses the importance of being a “T-shaped person,” someone who has broad general knowledge and skills, combined with depth in a specific area.  This isn’t the first place I have encountered such a notion. Broad skills across the top of the “T” include: communication, problem solving, analytical ability, teamwork, global and multicultural awareness, and the ability to synthesize. Deep skills are narrower, more technical and industry specific.

Broad skills are more stable and applicable across jobs, industries, and time; deep knowledge and skills are critical, but the need for these has a tendency to change so the knowledge and skills become obsolete more rapidly.

Take home message

To be able to maneuver in the new environment of rapid job change and personal responsibility, people need to cultivate those broad transdisciplinary knowledge and skills—akin to a traditional liberal arts program—as well as many types of specific technical knowledge over time. They key is, one can never stop learning and growing.

Or as Margaret Mead once said “We must rid ourselves of the idea that anybody can ever finish his education…We need to set up a program into which people can come at any time in their lives and get as much education as they can take.”


Please Judge Us by Our Covers by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Energy. Connections. Whimsy. Diversity. Imagination. Warmth. Color. Light. Dreams. Surprise.

These are the words that come to mind, capturing the essence of UCLA Extension as conveyed through the expressive works of art that appear on the cover of each UCLA Extension quarterly catalog.  Here is a small sample of the complete body of work.

Image          Image          Image          Image

For over twenty years UCLA Extension has engaged true masters of graphic design to create unique designs for its catalog. I must give credit to InJu Sturgeon, retired Creative Director of UCLA Extension for her vision and tenacity in creating this program.


Here’s a video documenting the design of our current UCLA Extension catalog cover for Winter 2012.

Designed by typographic conceptualist, Andrew Byrom, this cover showcases Byrom’s St. Julian typeface, conceived from furniture forms.

Since moving to the US about a dozen years ago, Byrom, an academic book jacket designer for publishing houses such as Penguin, dreamed of joining lifetime heroes, graphic designers Louis Danziger and Deborah Sussman in creating breakout UCLA Extension covers.

“This was such a big deal for me, I wanted to push things a bit,” said Byrom, who has a deep interest in typeface design. After manipulating 15 pieces of furniture, Byrom was hoisted several feet into the air to find the perfect angle. The tables used in the cover to spell out UCLA were also on display (and used by attendees) at TEDxUCLA last year, where Byrom spoke on the typography he sees in everyday objects.

 The Liverpool, England-born faculty member at Cal State Long Beach and UCLA Extension instructor, spent more than 6 months putting together the photograph, working with furniture designer Leslie Denham to construct functional pieces of art out of simple materials.


This cover, by Augustin Garza for Winter 2007, was the cover when I first arrived at UCLA in December 2006. (I fondly call it the “Exploding Palm Tree” and a giant framed copy of the design sits on the wall just outside my office door to this day.)

Circling back to the title of this post, we all know the old saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” We disagree, at least in the case of UCLA Extension. Given the quality, excitement, and dynamism of our catalog designs—and the reputations of the designers—it’s quite all right with us if you judge us by our covers.


Face Reality and Take Charge of Your Next Step by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I participated in two interesting discussions last week that underscored something I have been thinking about lately.

First, at the UCLA Extension Dean’s Advisory Board meeting, we heard a presentation by Board member Ed Leamer a faculty member at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

Professor Leamer  explained that in previous economic downturns, unemployment increased as industries reduced their workforce. But once conditions improved, displaced workers eventually were rehired into their previous industries.

The current economic downturn is quite a bit different.  Large numbers of jobs in construction and manufacturing have disappeared and they will not be coming back. Other industries have completely changed as well. Think about print journalism, printing in general, advertising, and the music industry.

My second meeting last week was part of UCLA Day with Local Government,” an advocacy day spent meeting with various elected officials and staff at Los Angeles City Hall. I met with a group of executive directors and board members from the local unemployment services/workforce system.

One senior human resources director from a large local firm mentioned he has encountered a number of people in his professional and personal life who have lost jobs and who have not faced the reality that those exact jobs will not reemerge. Almost every industry now requires higher level skills and a greater use of technology. Many unemployed individuals are sitting back and waiting for the world to adapt to them. They are not doing anything to adapt themselves for reemployment in today’s environment.

It is extremely difficult and unsettling for many people to think about going back to school when one has been out of school for 30 years or more.  This dynamic is even more apparent for those who entered the workforce directly from high school.

This brings me back to the title of this post. Facing reality and next steps.

There are many options for someone to build upon past experience and to upgrade knowledge and skills quickly. For many, I would recommend a serious look at rigorous professional certificate programs. We have seen individuals transition

  • from banking to logistics
  • from mortgage broker to starting a waste recycling company
  • from information technology professionals to the healthcare field
  • from sales and marketing people to nonprofit organizations

The key is to get help and advice

  • What transferrable skills do you have?
  • What industries project employment growth?
  • What do you care about?

Then, find a program that can help you connect all the dots and get you from A to B. You can find employment that equals or exceeds your previous position.

Naturally, UCLA Extension offers many options. The most important thing is to face reality and take that important next step.


What I will be reading: More “disruption”

Just as soon as I wrote a blog post about Clay Christensen’s book, Disrupting Class, Christensen and co-author Henry Eyring’s new book was released. It’s called The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out and the authors apply the same approach and some of the same ideas in Disrupting Class specifically to higher education. I saw a presentation on ideas in the book at the American Council on Education annual meeting back in March.

 Yes, I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it. Another blog post in my future?


What I’m reading: Disrupting Class

Over the past year or so, I had the honor of serving as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow. ACE is the nation’s premier umbrella organization representing all sectors of higher education, and the fellowship is a sort of mid-career internship for higher education leaders.  During the year I made time to catch up on my reading. (My blog posts took somewhat of a backseat, you may have noticed.)

 One book I found particularly compelling was Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the work learns by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson.  Christensen has written about innovation and disruptive technology in other industries. This book applies his theories to K-12 education. It’s a refreshing “outsiders” view.

 Christensen argues the current educational system is based on an industrial, mass production, assembly line model where we assume every student can master the same material in the same way. Christensen provides a compelling argument for a new disruptive model:

  • Customized learning that adapts to an individual student’s pace and style of learning
  • Student-centered classrooms that employ technology
  • Teachers as facilitative “guides on the side”
  • Students engaged in learning and feeling successful about their learning

 Christensen predicts that disruptive educational innovation may emerge in the form of grassroots online tutoring tools:  “ . . . these tools will spread in popularity very quickly, and exchanges will emerge through with this user-generated content can be offered to others for free or for a fee.” (p. 130)

Christensen draws an analogy to the pharmaceutical industry’s direct-to-patient advertising. Patients are doing their own web research about conditions and treatments and are “’pulling’ the solution from their doctors after they’ve made a preliminary diagnosis themselves” (p. 139).

 “The analogous case in education is that historically, because they haven’t known of the existence of remedies for learning problems, students and their families typically put up with poor grades and the low self-esteem spawned by feeling stupid. [New] facilitated networks will be designed to help students and their families diagnose why they’re finding it so difficult to master a subject and then find their own solution. Just as in health care, students and their families will not wait for their teaching professionals to prescribe a ‘therapy.’ They will pull the solution out of the facilitated network themselves” (p. 139).

 Eventually, the public will expect, even demand, similar solutions in the classroom.

 This very brief description just scratches the surface of the many insights in Disrupting Class. I recommend this book for anyone interested in educational reform.  (And who isn’t?)