Certificate Craze

(WFLX) - It's the fastest growing segment of higher education today. We're talking about certificate programs.

They aren't as costly, and require less training than a typical college degree. In some cases, they may even earn you more money!

Major universities are offering them but not every certificate program is created equally.

Kimberly Conner is excited to be back in class for her certificate in project management knowing she'll finish fast. "I'm expected to get laid off from my current position, and I wanted to expand and broaden my skill set."

Amit Seth wants his certificate to compliment the master's degree he already earned. "This is a very fast track program, and it gives a lot of information, in depth you know, what tools, techniques."

They are among the many pouring into classrooms to snatch up certificates for everything from event planning to Web design.

Experts say soaring costs for education at four-year colleges and an uncertain job market make this alternative very attractive. "They are designed to be relatively fast to get, faster even than a two-year associate's degree. They are much more focused on the, on skills, and they can be much cheaper than even associate's degrees from community colleges," said Mark Schneider, VP of American Institute for Research, President of College Measures.

Enrollment is sky high. Last year, the number of students earning one to two year certificates increased by 56 percent. That's compared to a 15 percent increase in the number of bachelor's degrees and a 25 percent increase in associate's degrees.

Research shows those holding a certificate may also earn more than graduates of other types of programs-depending on the field. "The highest paid certificates in all the states, we've been looking at are in high tech manufacturing, healthcare and construction."

Jennifer McNelly is president of the Manufacturing Institute, representing many of the nation's employers. She believes these programs are filling a critical need in America today, and sees all types getting in on the certificate craze. "They're individuals that could be first step career changers. They could be individuals that finished with a high school diploma but didn't enter directly into post secondary education, or interestingly enough, returning students with baccalaureate degrees looking for skills."

There's concern about the lack of industry-based standards. "It's sort of like the wild west in American higher education," said Schneider.

"Certificates across the education institutions in this country have no consistency. There is no standard, and even within states, there isn't necessarily the same content being delivered," McNelly explained.

Education and manufacturing groups are working toward more uniformity.

In the meantime, if you're considering this kind of education, there are some things you should find out before picking a program. "The kinds of questions that we need to ask are, 'What's the completion rate? How much is it going to cost me? And how much am I going to make at the end of the day?'" said Schneider.

Amit is banking on the benefits. "It will give me all the knowledge which I need, and I would definitely recommend this to whomever I know."

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to certificates: Some programs are created quickly in response to trends or changes in the economy. But the concern is if those trends are short-lived, the programs and your specialty could become obsolete.

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