Certifications, Designations and Certificates: Alternatives to a Degree

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OUTCOMES

  1. Understand the differences between a certificate and certification
  2. Learn how to leverage your tuition assistance policy to take advantage of these options

By Sandra Womack

For the past 20 years, corporations have initiated Tuition Assistance Programs to provide financial help for their employees’ education—generally a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  During this 20 years time frame, hundreds of colleges began including online learning and other distance learning formats to accommodate the needs of Adult Learners with Tuition Assistance dollars at their disposal.  Today corporations are wisely moving to add Certifications, Designations and Certificates as part of the education package and paying tuition reimbursement for these short courses along with degrees.

What are the differences between the terms?

Let’s start with the difference between Certification and Certificate.  Certification demands proof of a skill or expertise.  To gain a Certification, you must pass an exam or demonstrate an expertise.  The exam or test- of- skill is usually a national test, with everyone taking the same exam.  This exam is given by a professional organization, trade group, union or a national committee.  When you pass the Certification exam, you will be able to use letters (designations) behind your name, such as PHR (Human Resources Professional) or PE (Professional Engineer).

A Certificate is a group of classes, usually from a college or university, in one area (Information Management, Data Analysis, Informatics, etc.)  You can add “Certificate of Data Analysis” (for example) on your resume.

Certification:  Results from an assessment process (Exam or Exam + Test-of-skill) ; Requires some professional experience in the area; Results in a Designation to use after one’s name (example:  PMP = Project Management Professional). Needs on-going requirements to keep current.

Certificate:  Results from taking and passing classes in an educational setting (usually a college or university); May not require professional experience; Listed on a resume detailing education; Does not need on-going requirements.

Some popular Certifications are:  Six Sigma, Project Management, Financial Planning, Financial Analysis, Microsoft and Cisco Certifications, System Security, Desktop Support Administration, Web Design, Clinical Medical or Dental Assisting, among others.    Boot Camp or Test Prep classes to get you prepared to take these Certification exams come from both colleges and training programs. 

Certificates are found in almost every community colleges and the Continuing and Professional Education Department of universities.  Certificates can be as short as a couple of classes, up to a series of courses that can become your concentration.  For example, you could take a Certificate in Project Management from a business department at your local universities.  Later on, if the wanted to pursue the business graduate degree (MBA, MS Management, etc.), the certificate classes could become your concentration area.

If your company offers Tuition Assistance that helps pay for your education, make sure to check the policy to see if Certificates and Certifications are covered.  Some tuition assistance policies require that all courses taken must be from regionally accredited schools, so a Bootcamp or Test Prep for a Certification might not be reimbursed if taken from a training program.

Certifications and Certificates might be the way to increase your skills and help you maintain your current job, lateral to an equivalent job or even gain a promotion.  Not everyone needs to get a Master’s degree to achieve work-related goals.  Short term education programs might be something to consider.