06/29/2012 05:57 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

Certificate Training: The Growing Win-Win Partnership Between Academia And Industry

It might surprise you to learn that the second most popular credential awarded by a growing number of institutions of higher education -- after the ubiquitous bachelor's degree -- is not the master's degree. Nor is it the Ph.D. or any of a host of professional doctoral degrees. The trend in higher education -- especially among those institutions having strong partnerships with regional business and industry -- is the development of custom-designed, post-baccalaureate certificates to meet the needs of our ever-more-specialized knowledge economy.

One example here at McNeese State University is a post-baccalaureate certificate in pump reliability engineering, offered by our College of Engineering and Engineering Technology to workers who have already attained a bachelor's degree in engineering. This certificate program was developed in partnership with an international manufacturer of industrial pumps and valves. Successful students not only gain skills and knowledge that will directly increase their productivity in a specialized field at the local manufacturing plant, their training allows them to become skilled enough to teach the course on an in-house basis to future employees, thus reducing the educational cost to the manufacturer over time. To reduce the risk to McNeese, the company has been willing to sign a multi-year agreement, since the company employs thousands of workers around the world, and since the company's workforce is growing. Thus, both the risks and rewards can be identified and limited to the benefit of both parties.

A second example -- offered through our College of Nursing -- is a post-baccalaureate certificate program for case management. The intent of the program is to develop clinical resource management skills for health care professionals who must function in an increasingly managed care system, both public and private sectors, and are capable of providing both quality and cost-effective care. It was designed to meet the needs of a workforce that has already received hands-on baccalaureate-level training in patient care -- i. e., nurses now employed in a variety of health care delivery and reimbursement settings -- and is offered via a fully online format.

The factors that set certificate programs apart from traditional diplomas and degrees include their flexibility, custom-tailoring, and immediate application to specific needs identified by a particular business or industry. Need a program that can be completed by employees in six months or less? No problem. Let's sit down with key members of your leadership team and key members of our faculty and work out a certificate program with guaranteed quality standards to meet those needs.

Of course, the breadth of a certificate will never match the breadth of the typical university master's or doctoral degree. Engineering faculty at the doctoral level will be quick to point out that there is a major difference between understanding how a particular pump works and understanding the engineering principles that led to its creation in the first place. Nursing faculty will be quick to point out that a quality program in case management could never be designed without the help of nursing faculty who understanding nursing at the masters' and doctoral levels. There will always be a need for masters' degrees and doctoral degrees, especially in areas relating to teaching and research. But in today's increasingly specialized economy, we may no longer have the luxury of expecting every factory supervisor and every practicing professional to set aside years of their working lives completing a full blown graduate degree.