Sometimes Non-Degree Programming the Best Option for AdultsKaren LaMarsh | Director of Professional Development and Training, Clayton State University
Knowledge and technology are increasing at exponential rates. As a result, to be cutting edge, people need to be lifelong learners. It has been said that for the American workforce to remain internationally competitive, 55 percent of Americans must earn a degree by 2025. However, lots of money, resources and time can be wasted going down the wrong path. Is a degree really the best solution?
Perhaps a certificate program or other non-degree programming would be a better intermediate step. In their June 2010 report titled Help Wanted, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reported that, by 2018, we will need at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates.  Furthermore, a recent report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers finds that occupations requiring an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate are actually projected to grow slightly faster than occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Brookings Institution reports that 19 of the 30 occupations with the largest projected job growth over the next decade do not require a four-year degree. 
High-quality, non-degree programming is only going to become more vital in the future. America’s workforce is at a critical juncture since some jobs are being left vacant in the absence of skilled workers to fill them. Too many of our workers do not have the skills required to meet labor challenges of the 21st century. We must “upskill” entry-level workers to fill these shortages. Our long-term commitment must be to develop a workforce able to meet critical workforce shortages and respond to the performance requirements of highly technical jobs. 
Employers report that over 40 percent of graduates (those with an associate’s/bachelor’s degree) do not have the necessary applied skills for success.  A degree alone doesn’t guarantee workforce readiness.  Quality continuing education is capable of meeting these needs and providing the training solutions in a timely and sensible fashion.
A certificate program and other professional development courses offer students a quick path without their needing to invest a significant amount of time into a degree. Adult learners rarely have the luxury of quitting their jobs and going to school full-time. Most non-degree programming is offered in the evenings, on weekends or online. Non-degree programming does not require the cumbersome application, admission and testing procedures required for so many degree programs.
Additionally, adults often demand practicality and expediency regarding their education. Many times, the course of study in continuing education is accelerated and focuses on specialized training and hands-on activities, and is competency-based. Earning a certificate lets employers know the employee has learned the skills to successfully do the job. Some certificate programs prepare participants for professional certification, which documents that they have proven their mastery of the subject matter. Whether students are looking to move into a new field or advance to the next level of their current career, certificates and certification expand their job opportunities and increase their earning potential.
Adult learners want to know there will be a return on their investment; that they will be able to get a promotion or qualify for a new job. Non-degree programming should have clear and measureable learning outcomes that have been based on real needs assessment. As a result of the training, students should possess new skills, better application of abilities or proficiency with a body of knowledge necessary to pass a desired certification exam.
Faculty, instructors and facilitators of non-degree programming should be subject matter experts who also have an understanding of adult learning theory and classroom management. Adult learners want to learn from practitioners who are competent, have the right credentials and real world experience that is up-to-date and relevant. Open houses, information sessions and videos allow potential students to meet the instructors and learn more about what it takes to succeed.
Accreditation or meeting a quality assurance standard, such as the ANSI/ IACET Standard for Continuing Education and Training gives institutions a solid framework for setting up successful operations and programming. The mission of IACET, the International Association for Continuing Education and Training, is to promote and enhance quality in continuing education and training through research, education and the development and continuous improvement of criteria, principles and standards. 
Recently, one of Clayton State University’s corporate clients requested management training for several employees who had recently been promoted. The new supervisors were very proficient in their technical skills; however, managing people requires a different set of competencies. Fortunately, this organization recognizes the need for professional development and is willing to invest in these rising leaders. Designing and delivering customized non-degree programming that builds their managerial capabilities makes more sense for these employees and the employer than sending them back for another degree.
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 Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,” June 15, 2010. http://cew.georgetown.edu/jobs2018/
 Barbara Endel, Don Carstensen and Keith Bird, “Breaking New Ground: Building a National Workforce Skills Credentialing System,” ACT, http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/BreakingNewGround.pdf
 Center for American Progress Report, Soares & Mazzeo, 2008
 Georgetown University Public Policy Institute
 International Association for Continuing Education and Training, www.iacet.org
Author Perspective: Administrator