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Certificate Programs: The “New Black” in Professional Development

The EvoLLLution | Certificate Programs: The “New Black” in Professional Development
Given rising employer focus on professional education outcomes, institutions should consider launching certificate programs.

In today’s ever-evolving workforce, lifelong learning is the key to gainful and fulfilling employment—which is why successful professionals are always on the lookout for quality continuing education, designed to drive career advancement.

That being said, industry-relevant, postsecondary certificates are fast becoming the “new black” in professional development, at a time when employers and employees alike are increasingly focused on maximizing their return on training and tuition investment.

In fact, studies show that certificates can indeed serve as a gateway to higher pay (as much as 25 percent), increased responsibility and greater job satisfaction—especially when provided by a highly regarded and regionally accredited university, with a vast network of industry partners. And online certificate programs offer a unique opportunity to fit professional development into busy schedules and workplaces, by making it possible to complete them from anywhere, at any time.

So what are some of the advantages?

Certificate programs provide a cost-effective fast track to career-building expertise

For those who want to add a few more rungs to their career ladder, online certificate programs are a great way to master new skills for less money and in a shorter period of time. These programs require far fewer semester credits to complete than a full degree—typically between 12 and 18—which means they usually cost less, as well. On top of that, a growing number of them are now eligible for federal financial aid, which helps close the gap between tuition price and employer reimbursement.

And while degree programs generally take a broad-brush approach to knowledge acquisition in a particular field of study, certificate programs (especially at the graduate level) focus more on specialized skills or areas of practice within a field. Thus, they are a credible and cost-effective way to score the right credentials for landing a job promotion or jumpstarting a different career path.

Certificates zero in on industry-specific skills and standards

Reputable certificate programs are generally developed in tandem with businesses, government agencies and professional associations. This approach helps ensure that coursework is closely aligned with ever-evolving industry standards, skills and technologies—a real benefit for employees, as well as their employers.

For example, Drexel’s online graduate certificate in sustainable and green construction furnishes students with the requisite skills to develop and oversee environmentally responsible projects that comply with industry-adopted LEED standards for clean and renewable energy. As such, it’s a good career advancement choice for any professional in the building field—from architects to contractors to engineers.

Certificate programs are developed with applied learning in mind

Given their laser focus on building practical, real-world skills, certificate programs typically include some sort of experiential learning component. By the same token, well-designed online options incorporate an effective array of interactive technologies that provide students with ample opportunities to authentically apply what they are learning.

Drexel’s online graduate certificate in forensic trends and issues in contemporary healthcare uses sophisticated simulations to reinforce course content, including a three-dimensional virtual crime scene—complete with numerous clues and continuous feedback—for conducting a vulnerability risk assessment. There are also realistic simulations that enable students to practice interviewing victims and offenders, along with a playback feature for reviewing and improving performance.

What’s more, online programs furnish multiple avenues for connecting and collaborating in cyberspace with instructors who are experts in their fields as well as classmates, who are typically other working professionals. So in addition to acquiring marketable skills and worthwhile credentials, certificate completers have a ready-made global network of future colleagues and contacts as they move onward and upward in their chosen careers.

Certificates can be the first step to a full degree

Last, but not least, both employees and employers can get an even bigger return for their professional development dollars with online certificate programs that can be used as a stepping stone to full degrees at some point down the road. That’s why a growing number of institutions use this scaffolding approach, particularly when it comes to graduate certificates in healthcare, education, business and engineering and technology.

Susan C. Aldridge, Ph.D., is President of Drexel University Online. Wired for Success, the book she co-authored, was published in 2014. Dr. Aldridge is the former president of the University of Maryland University College and former Vice Chancellor of Troy University. Visit Aldridge’s site at

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