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Higher ed system hopes for boost from certificate programs

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(The Center Square) — In an effort to attract students and the general public alike, Pennsylvania’s higher education system will partner with Google to offer certificate programs that demonstrate their skills to potential employers.

Students can earn a certificate as they get college credit within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and the public can earn a certificate through non-credit courses and workshops without enrolling in PASSHE.

“This new public-private partnership will enable PASSHE students to earn a Google Career Certificate during their regular undergraduate programs, allowing them to earn college credit and an industry-recognized certificate at the same time,” a press release noted.

Certificate options will be available for cybersecurity, data analytics, digital marketing and e-commerce, IT Support, project management and user experience (UX) design, and non-students can complete them within three to six months, PASSHE noted.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, promoting the partnership on Tuesday at Millersville University, argued that it was a continuation of his higher ed reform plan.

“My administration has been working on a comprehensive and meaningful reform plan for higher education…we need to make sure that we craft, right now in the commonwealth, a blueprint for higher education focused on competitiveness, focused on workforce development, and grounded in access and affordability for all,” Shapiro said.

Colleges in recent years have taken to offering more certificate programs in recent years as a way to prove they can prepare students for work and attract workers looking to switch jobs.

Earlier this month, the University of Texas system partnered with Coursera to offer what it calls “the most comprehensive industry-recognized microcredential program in the country.” Goodwill has also partnered with Google to offer job training and certificates for workers, and Illinois has similar programs for high school students in some parts of the state.

The approach has been especially popular at community colleges, “acting as an on-ramp to a degree,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

“Findings from several states suggest that approximately 32 to 43 percent of certificate earners are re-enrolling in college and stacking credentials,” Lindsay Daugherty wrote.

The evidence of whether credentials boost earnings and help lower-income students has been mixed, though, and benefits can vary greatly by the field and job type.

The rigor and actual learning gains from online certificate programs have also been questioned. Though they have potential, programs can have high attrition rates and one participant argued “they’re neither a stand-alone solution nor a silver bullet.”

PASSHE leaders argued the collaboration will help students get good jobs.

“They’re going to be both comprehensively educated and specifically skilled,” PASSHE Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said. “This will give our students a competitive edge in the job market.”

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