Thoughts on Certificate Programs

During the past year I have asked individual and groups of faculty members why we at PSU do not offer stand-alone, pre-baccalaureate, credit-level certificates and, if there is any interest in doing so. The reaction has been mixed.
There are some faculty members that are eager to explore the possibility; while others immediately raise concerns. It is of course the Faculty Senate’s decision if we offer pre-baccalaureate, credit-level certificates or not, but  I want to share some thoughts about this topic with the goal that we can have healthy campus dialogs that might lead to PSU offering pre-baccalaureate certificates.

What do we offer now?
Our PSU Bulletin describes a certificate program as “a concentration of courses in one of a variety of specialty fields and may be awarded upon graduation, or as a stand-alone credential as a post baccalaureate student.”
At present, the only way to earn an undergraduate certificate from PSU is to simultaneously receive a PSU BA/BS, or earn a certificate while in post-baccalaureate status having already earned a baccalaureate degree.  In other words, undergraduate certificates cannot be earned as stand-alone credentials prior to a student earning a baccalaureate degree.  Even if a student completes all the courses for a certificate program, they cannot be awarded the certificate unless they complete the bachelor’s degree or already have a bachelor’s degree.
Why stand-alone, pre-baccalaureate credit certificates?
I have looked at dozens of other reputable universities that allow undergraduate students to earn certificates as supplements or enhancements to existing degree programs OR as stand-alone programs.
Certificates can serve many purposes:
  • Their content can be related to emerging academic areas that in-and-of-themselves do not constitute a degree program.
  • Certificates can be a way to gain special competencies.
  • They might allow departments to explore possible new degree areas prior to moving forward with a complete major.
  • They can be a subset of a specific discipline or be interdisciplinary in nature.
  • They can provide technical skills such as in my own field of Geographic Information Science (GIS).

I think it is time for a serious conversation at PSU as to how stand-alone, pre-baccalaureate credit certificates can serve our students.  I continue to believe that part of PSU’s mission in serving our urban population is to be responsive with these types of programs and at minimum be willing to explore such options.  However, I am certain it is not something for every discipline or department.

It is the faculty and the Faculty Senate who determine what our offerings should look like. This will require the Academic Requirements Committee to clear the way for units wishing to offer stand-alone, pre-baccalaureate credit certificates. It will then be up to those units and the curricular approval processes we have in place to propose and approve specific certificate offerings.

I am happy to be part of any conversation about this or to hear your views.
Note:  We currently offer undergraduate certificates in Accounting,  Asian Studies,  Athletic Outdoor Industry, Black Studies, Canadian Studies, Central European Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies,  Criminal Justice Studies,  Foodservice Syst Adm/Mgmt, International Business, Entrepreneurship, Latin American Studies, Linguistics, Middle Eastern Studies, Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship , Other Foreign Language Teacher, Russian, Teaching English as a 2nd Lang, Turkish Lit & Languages, and Women’s Studies.

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