Category Archives: Strategic Vision

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.



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).


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).


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.


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.


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.


Broad and Deep Knowledge Revisited By Dean Cathy Sandeen

My last post focused on the importance of developing broad knowledge and capabilities (Four-Year Career).

In my further reading I have come across a number of ideas that reinforce this point.

Industrial Darwinism or “survival of the fittest industry”

The notion of “Industrial Darwinism” is reflected in this chart. Employment areas that are growing are likely to require higher-level thinking. (A perfect example: according to this analysis, “Think Tanks” are a small, but growing employment sector. Imagine that.)

Source:  imgur

Job Paradox

Then, there’s the notion of “Job Paradox” that the graph below reflects. Though these data end at 2010, the general trend continues today. Despite high unemployment, right now many positions remain open and unfilled. Certainly the current housing market makes it more difficult for people to sell homes in order to relocate. This may be a factor. But another factor may be that employers are keeping jobs unfilled because they are not finding applicants with the knowledge and abilities they seek. Something is not working.

Source:  The American

Liberal Arts Again

A fairly recent article in the Wall Street Journal  is a good example of conversation emerging in higher education circles. The article describes how business school faculty and administrators are considering how to integrate traditional liberal arts knowledge and skills (again, critical thinking, problems solving, synthesis, communication) into their undergraduate business curricula.

Vocationalization and Specialization

We hear a lot about the “vocationalization” of higher education.  We hear a lot about “return on investment” for degrees. Students and families want and deserve education that will lead to a good job. The prevailing assumption seems to be: the more vocational or skills-based a degree is, the more likely that will lead to employment. For evidence of this, one need only note the degrees that have growing enrollments (e.g., business and healthcare) and those that have declining enrollments (humanities).

Integration and Transdisciplinary

The opposite of vocationalization and specialization is integration and greater transdisciplinarity. In my own conversations with employers and community leaders in my urban area, I repeatedly hear a call for broader transdisciplinary skills. Crossing disciplinary boundaries can be a challenge. But we owe it to our students to move in this direction.

It’s not an “either/or.” We live in an increasingly complex, global, and technology-driven world. That is not going to change. We all need specialized skills for today as well as broader contextual, communication, and analytical skills to carry us through the career lifecycle. Broad and Deep.


Value of a degree in the arts

I have written a lot here about the importance of degree attainment—and I often cite the economic value of a degree (Education still pays; Economic value of professional certificates) in improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. As a first-generation college graduate myself, this is a topic very close to my own experience. 

I recently came across a very interesting report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (or SNAAP).

This report focuses on the value of an arts degree, both visual arts and performing arts. If we’re talking about economic prospects, the common perception is “you’ll never be able to make a living in the arts” or “I hope you like waiting tables or driving a taxi.” We’ve probably all heard, or uttered, these cautions again and again.

The SNAAP report is an important counterpoint to such statements. Highlights from 2010 report:

  • Over 120,000 visual and performing arts degrees are granted each year
  • 92% of alumni who wish to work are working
  • 81% found employment soon after graduating
  • 66% said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they wanted
  • 57% are currently working as professional artists
  • Of those who currently work outside the arts, 54% said their arts training is relevant to their current job
  • Arts school graduates are 18 times more likely to volunteer at an arts organization (than the population at large (Independent Sector, 2001)
  • 90% of graduates reporting their overall experience at their college or university was either good or excellent
  • Job satisfaction levels are very high for those in many arts occupation

So to you arts graduates, all I can say is: “good for you.” For others who gravitate toward the arts, but who chose another “more practical” path (like myself), perhaps it’s time to consider following that inner muse?


Education Still Pays by Cathy Sandeen

Every few years the College Board (yes, the organization that administers the SAT and other standardized exams) issues a major report on the economic benefits of higher education—particularly attainment of a bachelors degree. Their latest report, “Education Pays 2010” was released on September 20th.

There were no major surprises in this year’s report. With all the justified focus on the rising cost of higher education in the US, it is nice to realize a college education is still a good investment for people. The report concluded:

  • Individuals with higher levels of education earn more and are more likely than others to be employed.
  • Median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working full time year-round in 2008 were $55,700, $21,900 more than median earnings of high school graduates.
  • Individuals with some college but no degree earned 17% more than high school graduates working full-time year-round. Their median after-tax earnings were 16% higher.
  • For young adults between the ages of 20 and 24, the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2009 for high school graduates was 2.6 times as high as that for college graduates.

There are indirect economic and individual benefits as well for college graduates:

  • College-educated adults are more likely than others to receive health insurance and pension benefits from their employers and be satisfied with their jobs.

In addition to these direct economic benefits to individuals, the report identified a number of broader societal economic benefits as well. Higher education is a good investment for the country, according to the College Board:

  • College education leads to healthier lifestyles, reducing health care costs for individuals and for society.
  • Adults with higher levels of education are more active citizens than others.
  • Federal, state, and local governments enjoy increased tax revenues from college graduates and spend less on income support programs for them, providing a direct financial return from investments in postsecondary education.

Although the percentage of college attainment in the US is relatively low—too low, in my opinion, to support the more sophisticated, abstract, higher-level jobs of the future—the proportion of US college graduates is trending in the right direction.

  • The proportion of adults in the United States between the ages of 25 and 34 with a four-year college degree held steady at 24% in the 1980s, but grew from 29% in 2000 to 32% in 2009.

Economic benefits of higher education are not limited to attainment of an initial 4-year bachelor degree. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the economic impact of UCLA Extension that included increased earning power of students who completed professional and continuing education programs at our institution.

Should higher education reach and serve more people? Of course. Can higher education institutions be more efficient while maintaining quality outcomes? Yes, we can. But is higher education still worth it to you and your family? Most definitely.