Professional Development Certificates

A Proposal for a New Type of Curricular Offering

(Describes credit-based certificates only)

As an increasing number of adults return to college to obtain additional knowledge and skills needed for personal growth and professional advancement, the University needs to adapt our offerings to meet the needs of this changing student population. As student demographics continue to change and new markets for higher education continue to emerge, the campus needs to carefully consider new types of program offerings that will utilize existing faculty expertise, existing classroom and laboratory facilities, and a wide range of available instructional technologies.

In recent years, many colleges and universities have begun to offer certificate programs in addition to traditional majors and minors. These certificates are not substitutes for degrees or diplomas, but rather provide an alternative credential to individuals seeking to obtain new knowledge and skills or to update their knowledge and skills in a specific area. Typically, a certificate is earned by completing a set of well defined, but limited, learning outcomes focused on new or emerging processes or new knowledge and principles applied to practical problems or issues.

What is a Professional Development Certificate?

A professional development certificate would be a new type of curricular offering for UW-Stout, although certificate programs have been in existence at other universities for a number of years. Professional development certificates would be different from degree programs, major concentrations, minors and specializations in several ways. These certificates would be seen as another way of "packaging" specific types of educational experiences and are aimed primarily at non-traditional students.

Professional development certificates would capitalize on currently existing faculty expertise and utilize currently available resources and facilities. These certificates would be developed to meet the immediate and anticipated needs of employers and the continuing knowledge and skill development needs of individuals. Many of these certificates would be developed in response to specific employer or societal needs and would have a clearly defined and relatively short lifespan.

The following five conditions seem to best define a professional development certificate program:

  1. A certificate may be defined primarily in terms of numbers of credits completed. A number of credit-based learning experiences, including courses, field experiences and internships, may be included in a certificate program. Certificates will be highly focused; they will contain few or no electives. They will be designed to focus on specific, designated purposes, rather than being individualized for each student.
  2. Certificates are "stand-alone" programs: they will be intended for use without the presumption that additional coursework will follow. However, for each certificate program there will be specific entry-level requirements and prerequisites. Entry-level requirements may include a specific number of years work experience in a particular field. Prerequisites may include specific courses, specific undergraduate degrees or specific graduate degrees.
  3. A certificate is designed to achieve defined outcomes. Many, but not all, certificates would be designed to provide additional knowledge or skills in a designated occupational area. Learning experiences for certificates may include courses, internships, or successful completion of external certification requirements or licensing examinations. Generally, certificates will be limited to 22 credits of formal coursework; however, this number may vary if the certificate is designed to meet the requirements of an external organization.
  4. Courses taken as part of a certificate program may be applied to a UW-Stout undergraduate or graduate degree program, provided the courses are required or appropriate for the degree program. However, acceptance into a certificate program does not ensure acceptance into a degree program.
  5. Courses and other learning experiences that are part of a certificate program should be scheduled so that students may complete the certificate in a timely manner ­ generally, certificate programs should be completed in two years.

How Would Professional Development Certificates Be Initiated?

Faculty who are interested in offering a certificate program would be encouraged to suggest a block of intended outcomes and specified requirements for their proposed certificate. Many certificate programs will utilize faculty from different colleges and departments. Faculty and staff must consult with appropriate individuals from business, industry, education, and professional organizations to ensure the proposed certificate will meet the needs of the intended audience. Faculty and staff must also consult with other universities to ensure that the proposal does not duplicate similar offerings elsewhere in this geographic area.

The Provost's Office will provide initial consultation to faculty and staff members who are interested in developing a certificate. Completed proposals will proceed through the usual levels of curriculum approval, beginning with the appropriate college/s and the Curriculum and Instruction Committee. When a certificate program has been approved, UW System will be notified for information purposes only.

How Would a Professional Development Certificate Be Implemented?

Certificates would be housed in one of the academic colleges. A coordinator would be named for each certificate program. The coordinator would recruit students, advise students, and meet with the instructors in the program periodically to make any necessary decisions.

All informational materials (publications, web pages) concerning certificates should exercise great care in describing these programs. Special publicity will be required and the university bulletin and web sites will need to stress these new academic approaches.


Process for Proposing a Professional Development Certificate

Once a faculty group has identified an area of interest for a certificate, the first step is to discuss the proposed certificate with the associate vice chancellor.

Next, a proposal will be developed. In the proposal, the faculty will identify intended outcomes, designate learning activities (these may be selected from existing courses, or specifically designed for the certificate) and designate achievement indicators for completion of these activities. When the proposal is completed, it will need approval at the college level before it is submitted to the Curriculum and Instruction Committee for approval. The program will then be discussed at a meeting of the AAAT. Following the recommendation of AAAT, the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs will take action upon the certificate, and it will be referred to UW System for information purposes.

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