Continuing education offers many benefits both for personal development and career advancement. Adding academic credentials can help professionals, active military, and Veterans keep pace with changes within their jobs and improve competencies to advance in a current job or transition into a new career. Occupations such as nursing, education, and engineering require continuing education to maintain licenses while some companies mandate it for employment or promotion into executive positions.
Data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that higher education leads to thousands in higher wages and lower unemployment in the workforce. Two popular types of post-secondary learning are master’s degrees and certificate programs. While a master’s degree leads to an advanced credential in a field of study, professional certificates demonstrate the completion of courses relating to a specific occupation. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that certificates are the fastest-growing form of post-secondary credentials in the country. As certificates grow in popularity, higher education institutions such as Norwich Pro offer a variety of online full certificate and microcertificate programs in high-demand fields.
According to GetEducated, a master’s is the first level of graduate study. This formal course of study stacks onto a bachelor’s degree to gain a more academic and professional understanding of a specific topic. Some master’s degrees concentrate on theory and research, while others offer sub-specialties relating to a specific field. For example, students with an undergraduate degree in computer science can earn a master’s in computer science programs for greater specialization in their job. Many master’s degree programs include internships, practicum courses, and hands-on learning that simulate real-world situations. reports that a 43% increase in the number of people earning a master’s degree since 2002.
A certificate program offers courses in a concentrated area for practical work application. Unlike a master’s degree, they do not include basic core classes for more academic development. Designed for the workforce, certificates supplement existing skills for professional growth that can lead to advancement and new career roles. Depending on credit requirements, most are earnable in less than a year. Many do not require previous education or testing before admission, so students can hold an associate or no degree at all to attend them. A certificate program is not a professional certification or license. However, some offer preparation for professional licensing and continuing education credits applicable to a degree.
Master’s degrees typically require a two-year, full-time commitment, with classes completed online or through a hybrid of attending some courses on campus. These graduate programs require 12 to 18 courses and often include a research or internship component. For example, as a registered dietician credential requires completion of an internship before application, a Dietetic Master of Science often combines a Dietetic Internship program as part of the curriculum.
As certificate programs typically are 100% online, they offer the flexibility to complete courses around busy schedules. Most include four courses or 14 to 16 credit hours that require a part-time commitment of 6 to 8 hours over a year or less. So, completion of a certificate program is faster than a master’s degree.
According to Peterson's, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a graduate degree program is almost $30,000 at public colleges and universities and nearly $40,000 at private schools. Variables affecting cost include in-state or out-of-state status of students, online coursework, and degree subject. Students can obtain scholarships and grants to cover graduate degree costs as well as federal loans.
With fewer courses, certificate programs cost around $1400 - $5000, depending on topic, duration, and institution. Costs do increase if students stack different certificate programs. Unlike degree programs, the course cost remains the same if the student is a state resident or not. And there are typically no academic prerequisites, application fees, or textbook requirements that add to costs. While scholarships are not offered with certificate programs, those approved by the U.S. Department of Education qualify for federal student aid.
Some jobs are only attainable with a master’s degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), about 37% of jobs in May 2016 required formal post-secondary education, while 6% needed a postsecondary non-degree, such as a certificate. Some of the advanced positions needing a master’s include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, postsecondary education administrators, psychologists, occupational therapists, engineers, and chiropractors. Teachers who instruct specialized classes such as special education and school counseling must hold a master’s degree. Some states such as Ohio and New York require elementary and secondary teachers to earn a master’s degree within five years of starting a teaching position.
Many companies place a higher value on candidates having a master’s degree when hiring. In addition, this advanced degree can demand higher wages. For example, students earning a master of science in electrical engineering on average earn a salary of $104,119, according to Indeed.com.
A certificate program can prepare individuals to work in a specific industry or career by building new skills or advance in a current role by becoming more expert in their position. In some cases, companies want individuals to gain specific education before moving into new roles. For example, a leadership certificate program can help a professional better position themselves for management, while a project management certificate could help another worker move into a new career path within the company. By building new skills that employers want, individuals remain competitive in their roles and stand out among the competition when applying for jobs.
When choosing between a master’s degree or a certificate program, think about career goals. Do you want to test a new field without making a full degree commitment? Do you already have professional experience and just want to deepen skill sets in a specific area? Or do you need the advanced degree credentials to get that job or promotion that has a specific set of academic requirements?
Also, consider the commitment to time and money in furthering your education. Are you comfortable taking two to five years in completing a master’s degree that may require an internship or final thesis? Or is your lifestyle better suited to get a certificate in under six months? Getting a master’s is hard work, with many not completing the challenge. Sometimes, a certificate can serve as a stepping stone into an advanced degree.
Higher education institutions such as Norwich University offer a variety of master’s degree programs and self-paced, instructor-led online certificate programs. For example, Norwich Pro offers a Project Management Certificate that develops skills for those looking to transition into a PM career or who want to perfect their skills. Courses include:
Other NorwichPro certificate programs focus on Artificial Intelligence and Data Analysis, Corporate Compliance, Leadership, Military History, and Public Works. Norwich Pro also offers one-week microcertificates where working professionals can learn new skills, upskill current competencies and reskill capabilities on a range of topics.
Understanding the value of continuing education, Norwich Pro supports the stacking of credentials across different programs. A graduate of Norwich’s online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity can earn a master’s in cybersecurity and, then, stack on an AI certificate.
For information on Norwich Pro’s complete roster of stackable certificates and microcertificates, visit https://pro.norwich.edu/ .