Tag Archives: certification

Trends In Higher Education: Certificates and Customization

Woman works with laptop, paper and pen.I recently leafed through a course catalog of the local community college and was surprised by the breadth of certification courses. These classes lead to a professional certificate in fields such as psychology, information technology, construction, and mechanical systems. Programs may consist of one course or many courses and are taken in addition to, or in lieu of, a traditional degree program. This is specialized instruction that leads to a specific skill. These certificates show a current or potential employer that you have mastered that skill and are ready to hit the ground running. I think that certificates will become an important tool to differentiate job seekers, so I set out to find out how popular and diverse these programs are.

Certificates vs. MOOCs

Certifications can be taken at the community college, undergraduate, or even graduate level. They often lead to licensure, as in the case of specialty teaching or nursing, or may serve as preparation for taking a certification test, such as those in information technology or engineering. The programs may stand alone without an accompanying degree, or they may be taken in conjunction with an undergraduate or graduate degree. For example, law students may study technology or business to enhance their skills by broadening the experiences. In the same vein, medical students may study bioinformatics to understand and conduct genetic analysis as part of their practice. These are examples of certifications that might give job seekers an edge over other candidates.

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are generally free and do not lead to licensure or certification. Some MOOC courses offer either option and can lead to a certificate for a fee. While these certificates are not generally recognized in the workplace, that could change in the future.

Options Beyond Certificates

Some universities are modifying their traditional degree requirements to meet the changing needs of students. Many students are returning to school or are enrolling later in life after already establishing a career. These students may need more flexibility in the course schedule or in the completion time. Some universities such as Worcester Polytechnic Institute are layering traditional degree programs with experience-based specialties. The college offers a one year master’s of management degree for young graduates, who then have the option of returning after at least two years of industry experience to add an MBA. Offering degrees in stages serves the young graduates looking for management education and returning students looking to add to their previous investment. The key to certificates or specialty degree programs is flexibility and availability of relevant curriculum.

Other schools are moving towards interdisciplinary studies degrees. This may be a combination of business, communications and information management such as the UO AIM Program, or a traditional management, engineering, health care, or law degree that allows students to explore adjacent paths in cyber security or business analytics or telemedicine. Whether these paths lead to a certificate or a degree, they all provide students with particular skills that are needed in the workplace.


Certificate and customizable degree programs allow students to combine the value of a traditional curriculum while gaining the specialized skills that are in demand. I think that this customization will only increase in the future as students seek innovative educational experiences. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

How My Graduate Education Opened Unexpected Doors For Me

2010 AIM Program graduatesI have been pondering how a graduate education has helped me in my life and career. The catalyst was an article I read recently titled “In Defense of the Master’s Degree.” To be fair, the article was written by the chief strategy officer at Northeastern University, so it may have been a bit biased. His thoughts, however, echo my own experience and the benefits I have enjoyed since completing my master’s degree.


As the article points out, up until recently the master’s degree was primarily a stepping stone to a PhD, though it sometimes became a final stopping place for those who did not make it to the finish. In the 1970s the trend shifted towards specialized graduate degrees in business, science, engineering, and computer science. The master’s degree became not a step to the PhD, but a destination in and of itself. At the same time, the number of advanced degrees in liberal arts has trended down.

Is it worth it?

With rising student debt and a proliferation of professional certificate programs, some are asking whether a graduate degree is still valuable. It is obviously important in medicine and law and in sciences such as chemistry, but is it important in computer science or information systems or business? Are employers looking for evidence of hands-on experience via certifications, or are they looking for evidence of the reasoning skills, critical thinking, and specialized knowledge that can only be developed through graduate-level study?  I believe that the answer is both.


Beyond the obvious advantages of education and knowledge, there are benefits I did not expect:

–       The opportunity to do focused research. I was able to dive into the area of using computer simulation to solve business problems. This helped me to focus my interests and had real-world applications for my employer.

–       Increased confidence. Not only was I able to apply for positions that required an advanced degree, but I was confident that I could compete for and excel in these jobs.

–       Increased networking opportunities. A graduate cohort is generally small enough to give you the opportunity to engage the fellow students, and the faculty, both personally and professionally. This expanded network has helped me immensely in my career.

–       Becoming qualified to teach. When I pursued my master’s degree, it was strictly for the increased knowledge and professional opportunities. To my surprise it also opened doors for me in the academic world. This was unexpected and has been a great source of personal growth for me.


When weighing the costs and benefits of an advanced degree, I encourage you to look not only at the extrinsic values of professional advancement but also at the intrinsic value of increased knowledge, confidence, and peripheral opportunities. My degree has opened doors for me and allowed me to network with talented individuals who took me to places that I never would have considered.

If you have an advanced degree or if you are contemplating starting one, I would love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

WANTED: More Cybercrime Sleuths

Internet theft - a gloved hand reaching through a laptop screen Last week, a report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee suggested that “… likely annual cost to global economy from cybercrime is more than $400 billion. A conservative estimate would be $375 billion in losses, while the maximum could be as much as $575 billion.” This amount includes hard figures such as money stolen from a bank account or charged to a credit card. It also includes soft figures such as the loss of intellectual property, which is much harder to estimate. In any case, the estimated loss is more that the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries. The good news is that IT solutions exist that will help reduce this figure.

How IT Is Battling Cyber Crime

IT is battling cybercrime in two ways. One is education of the public on safe computing and the other is through better IT security applications both for server and mobile platforms. Law enforcement agencies around the globe are starting to add more IT security specialists to their organizations. They realize that cybercrime is not a physical crime but a virtual one, although real money or property is lost. They often are not equipped to detect or enforce this type of crime so they are turning to IT specialists to provide that expertise. Credit card companies and banks are also working to devise new IT solutions to detect cybercrime before it happens. I have been issued a new credit card twice in the last few years because of activities that I did not initiate. The first was caught because there was activity at online stores that I do not or would not frequent and the security filters flagged that and notified me. The second time, it appeared that my physical card had been used within twenty minutes in Oregon and Texas. Again, that was flagged as an impossibility, so I was notified. These are examples of how IT can and does play a significant role in stopping cybercrime.

Career Opportunities as a Cyber Crime Fighter

As mentioned above, law enforcement such as the FBI and local agencies are increasing their force dedicated to cybercrime. They are looking for IT specialists in the area of IT security. They are looking for those individuals that have a degree in IT security such as Carnegie Mellon’s master’s degree in Information Security and Technology Management or certifications such as the CISSP or Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This additional training prepares you to take on the challenge of fighting cybercrime. There are growing opportunities for those who have skills in the IT security field. If your current skillset is becoming obsolete, this would be an emerging field that you should definitely consider.


Have you ever been a victim of cybercrime? Did you lose anything or was it detected before a loss occurred? Do you have people in your organization that are dedicated to monitoring and fighting cybercrime? Let me know your story. 

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.