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The 411 on Certificates and Certification Programs

Jun 12, 2017

Certificate and certification programs have proliferated over the last 20 years, and have long been a fixture in the information technology sector. More recently, they have also grown in the healthcare industry. If you are considering earning a certificate or certification, here is what you need to know.

The differences

Certificate and certification programs are generally available in three formats: live programs, online programs, or a hybrid of the two. Universities and colleges, nonprofit associations, and for-profit schools all offer these programs. In general, a certificate program provides a certificate of achievement upon successful completion of all program requirements and usually does not require maintenance or renewal. In contrast, a certification often provides a credential (like BC-ADM or CDE, etc.) and may have maintenance requirements, such as a prescribed number of continuing education (CE) hours over a specific number of years, or recertification through an exam.

Both of these types of programs are popular because they provide another avenue for professional development. You can advance your skills and burnish your resume in less time and at less expense than would be required to obtain an advanced degree. Typically, you can earn a certificate or certification within a three to 18-month timeframe.

The benefits

Certificate and certification programs can be a feasible option for working adults who seek to acquire or advance a skillset, supplement existing credentials, or demonstrate that that they are keeping pace with new developments in their field. For professions without a clearly defined academic path or licensure requirements, these programs offer an entry point into the field for new high school or college graduates, or for experienced professionals seeking to switch careers. They are also an option for staff training and workforce development, and supervisors can rely on consistency of training and skill acquisition regardless of staff turnover.

Is a certificate or certification program right for you or for someone on your staff? Your answers to the following might help you answer that question:

  • What is the framework for the certificate or certification? Is the program competency-based?
  • What is the reputation of the organization providing the program?
  • Do the benefits of the certification/certificate justify the cost and time to earn it?
  • Are there requirements for recertification? If so, what are the costs?
  • Are there educational and/or experiential requirements or prerequisites for the program? This is especially significant for career-changers since the certificate or certification alone may not allow them to move into the new career if they are missing other requirements or prerequisites. 
  • Do current or potential employers recognize the certificate/certification? Do they view the program provider as a recognized expert in the field?
  • What do you expect from the program? (For example: staying current in your field; acquiring a new skillset; providing professional development for your staff; exploring a new field before committing to the time/expense of a degree or advanced degree in the field)
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