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Angela LeeperCertificate Programs: Education's Best Kept Secret

by Angela Leeper

I simply wanted to take a few technical writing courses. I called a few university English departments to inquire about their offerings, but was repeatedly told that I needed to be enrolled in a master's program to take classes. After dialing the third school, I finally heard the magic words, "Have you heard about our certificate program?" Having completed a master's program just a few years before and even working in education, I was amazed that I had never heard of these hidden treasures in continuing education.

What is a Certificate Program?

When MBA students at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) expressed an interest in side concentrations and double majors (which the university does not allow), it developed a Post-MBA Graduate Certificate Program in areas such as entrepreneurial studies, health systems management, and international business and regional economics. The structure of these certificate programs resembles those at most colleges and universities. Rather than enroll in a lengthy (and often costly) master's program, students can complete five courses in specialized areas. Although all certificate programs have required courses, some also allow electives in the same field.

Students need not have completed an advanced degree to enter a certificate program. There are many just like the one at Fairfield University, which targets those with and without degrees. Fairfield offers credit certificates in areas including writing and interior design, and non-credit certificates for subjects such as business leadership, computer graphic design, and human resource management. Students can also apply some certificate courses toward future degree pursuits.

Another advantage certificate programs hold over traditional degree programs is flexibility. Although schools encourage students to take at least one course per semester, time requirements to complete a certificate program generally do not exist. In addition, schools primarily offer such courses during evenings and on Saturdays.

Susan Fitzgerald, associate dean in the School of Continuing Education at Fairfield University, recommends that students talk to advisors, especially if flexibility is important, before entering a certificate program. And flexibility is truly present in Fairfield University's completely online technical writing certificate program, which accommodates those with vigorous work schedules and from various geographic locations.

Students definitely play a role in the flexible nature of certificate programs. "They are working people," explains Anvernette Hanna, director of public relations at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York, NY, "so we develop courses according to their interests and job needs."

When students enrolled in NYU's certificate in conflict and dispute resolution needed more experience in mediation, for example, officials rolled out a mediation apprenticeship course the following summer where real-world experience was gained in Manhattan Small Claims Court. With 108 certificate programs ranging from multimedia technology and screenwriting to e-finance and e-law, NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies accommodates numerous student needs.

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