Okay now that I have your attention let me first apologize for such a misleading title. What I really meant to ask was, ‘Can your degree be worth a lot more to potential employers when coupled with an industry accepted certification in the same field of study?’ but that was too long of a title.
Today’s job market is horrendously competitive, especially for those fresh-faced, wide-eyed undergrads stepping out onto a national arena where they have to compete with the over 1.6 million other graduates for that first out-of-college job. So what sets John Smith with his B. Sc. in Computer Science and a G.P.A. of 3.8 apart from Jane Johnson with her B. Sc. in Computer Science and a G.P.A. of 3.8? Even before the potential interview process, how can Joe Public prove on paper that without a significant amount of work experience he does have the practical and relevant industry know-how to be competent in the role he is seeking to fill?
The Answer: Accredited Industry Certifications
The first thing to note is that the industry certification is not a replacement to the traditional degree, but rather should be complementing the degree. Some faculty and deans of traditional tertiary level educational institutions seem to be threatened by the increased validity of the industry certification and dismiss it as something that should be left to vocational institutions. This is far from accurate, and far from the current reality of what it means to be career ready for the graduating class of today and tomorrow. If part of a university’s mission is to ensure that their students are not only critical thinkers and profoundly educated, but to also make them more valuable on the job market so that they may actually apply what they’ve learned over their academic career, then there should be an educational alignment with certain key industries.
Consider the case of Jane Johnson with her B. Sc. in Computer Science and a G.P.A. of 3.8. Let’s say within the wide field of Computer Science, Jane Johnson is specifically interested in networking technologies, then Jane Johnson will become exponentially more attractive to employers if she were to also graduate with a CCNA or CompTIA Net+ certification. Another example is Paul Simon, graduating with a B.A. in Foreign Languages and is very proficient in German, then Paul Simon will immediately become more valuable to employers if he were to also complete his academic tenure as an ATA certified German translator. The point here is that the industry certification does guarantee that a candidate will land the coveted position that they applied for, but being able to state a professional certification on his/her resume definitely helps them stand out among their competition. Now obviously it will be up to the student to sit and pass the certification exam, but universities should be thinking about ways to align their programs so that students can take an elective class that will prepare these students for the exam, and possibly even sponsor the vouchers for them to take the exam. Such a system not only adds value to the student, but also the educational institution.
The Prior Experience Challenge
One notable hurdle is the qualifications needed to take many of these industry certification exams. Many exams require proof of prior experience to even schedule the exam which could present a challenge. However, most industry certifications offer scaled back or associate versions of their top tier certifications for those who have not yet gained enough time in the field. For instance, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), as an alternative for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, and Cisco offers the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), as an alternative to the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam. Furthermore, this alignment of traditional degrees and industry certification is not just for undergrads, but could also be applied to graduate students.
It is also critical to point out that while the coupling of industry certification and traditional degrees work favorably in the Information Technology, Business, and Medical professional fields, the concept does not lend well to other academic fields like Humanities, Art and Political Science for example. There is no industry-accredited certification for an artist or for a political science major. Although, having politicians be industry certified is an ingenious idea, but let’s save that topic for another blog post.