Officials have continued to roll out new graduate certificate programs over the past five years, but GW certificate enrollment has plummeted over the same period, according to University data.
Program enrollment has fallen about 15% since 2017 – dropping annually from 372 students in 2017 to 314 in 2021 – while the University continued to add more than 20 new graduate certificate programs, according to institutional data. Higher education experts have said that while the programs can help students specialize in job skills, they pose a risk to students because of their high cost and unguaranteed job value.
GW now offers over 100 graduate certificates at the School of Business, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, School of Nursing, at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the College of Professional Studies and the School of Public Health at the Milken Institute.
Peter Linquiti, director of the environmental resources policy program – which offers two graduate certificates – at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, said the certificates are for “working professionals” whose careers may require knowledge of environmental policy but has no prior training in the field. He said their curriculum includes policy analysis, environmental science, environmental law and environmental economics.
“This ‘deep dive’ into the field helps them climb the learning curve in what can be a complicated and confusing policy area,” Linquiti said in an email.
All of GW’s 12 peer schools offer graduate certificate programs that vary in subjects such as business, environment, politics, and technology. Managers have designed GW’s 12-credit certificate programs to provide working professionals with more specialized skills while accommodating their busier schedules and offering most courses in the evening or online.
Pradeep Rau, a marketing professor who served as the chairman of the marketing department when officials instituted the graduate certificate programs at the School of Business, said GW offers two different marketing certificates among the variety of programs in university-wide certificate. But highly specialized certificates cannot compare in terms of professional value to a real university degree, because degrees are more difficult, take longer to earn and demonstrate a wider range of expertise, he said. .
“The real choice is ‘Do you want a degree or do you want a certificate?’ because they are not the same thing,” Rau said. “You can say ‘I have a certificate’, but you don’t have a degree.”
Business school graduate enrollment dropped for seven consecutive years between 2012 and 2019, leading to a greater focus on graduate programs under the leadership of Dean Anuj Mehrotra, who arrived at GW in July 2018. Mehtotra worked during his freshman year to stabilize enrollment by “reimagining” higher education at the school, which included increased flexibility to earn certificates online and stack two certificates with 12 core courses in the curriculum Masters of Business Administration to earn a full MBA.
Enrollment of business school graduates rose 3.3% the following year, according to institutional data. Graduate enrollment has declined this academic year, but remains slightly above 2019 levels.
GW’s overall enrollment has dropped about 2% this academic year. Rau said there is uncertainty in higher education and the job market due to the pandemic, prompting the University to advertise the programs online and boost revenue through increased enrollment of students.
“If registrations go down, then the question is how much revenue can we get from this system?” Rau said. “After all, business schools also operate like businesses. So if we don’t get enough students, we don’t make our mark.
GW’s graduate certificate programs cost nearly $2,000 per credit hour with a 12-credit graduate certificate. The University does not provide financial aid for graduate certificates.
Higher education experts said the programs serve as a “backbone” for professionals who want to diversify their professional skills. But they also recommend “buyer beware” before getting a graduate certificate because of their high tuition and uninsured professional value.
Donovan Livingston, assistant dean of Wake Forest University’s Office of Academic Collaborations, said graduate certificates can help students who are considering a career change and want to diversify their skills without committing to a college degree. full-time graduate studies.
“Professionals who might be interested in transitioning or strengthening some of their skills in their current role can look to certificate programs as a way to do so,” Livingston said. “There’s also this idea that if they get a certificate, maybe we can inspire them to come back to pursue a master’s or other degrees.”
Erich Dietrich, a professor of higher education and international education at New York University, said the programs are a gamble for low-income students, so students should be an “informed consumer” when assessing the value of graduate certificates. He said the certificates are seen as a solution to job insecurity in the US economy, but they do not guarantee the recipient a job after graduation.
“Whenever people go into these programs, they hope it will help them settle into future employment, but that’s always a risk,” Dietrich said. “You hope it will be what employers want, but since you don’t always know who your employer will be, it’s always just a guessing game.”
Nathan Harris, assistant professor of higher education at the University of Rochester, said faculty and department leadership determine which certificate programs to offer in place of administrators. He said faculty experts in the field of study understand the necessities of the field so they can make certificates more accommodating to students and tailored to a more specific concentration, such as computer science.
“It’s not necessarily a decision, which is made in the provost’s office or the president’s office,” he said. “While these stakeholders within the institution often ultimately approve, the impetus for finding the rationale for creating these programs does lie at the local level.”
Harris said a university’s reputation has a big bearing on the likelihood of large, expensive graduate certificate programs being successful at private institutions.
“Prestigious universities have a strong brand, and it’s appreciated that any certificate from a highly ranked institution from the perspective of students and employers will be more meaningful than a degree from a less prestigious institution,” Harris said.