Certificate

Last Updated: 03/31/2024

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Overview

A certificate is a type of award conferred by a college, university, training program, university extension program, career and technical education schools, or other postsecondary education institution indicating the satisfactory completion of a non-degree program of study, including coursework and assessments.

Certificates are issued by an institution in recognition of completion of curriculum about a smaller domain of knowledge than established academic degrees. Typically, the course requirements for earning a certificate are less than those for earning a degree. This means they take less time and contain fewer credits. Most certificates require no more than one year of full-time academic effort. A certificate may be for-credit (academic certificate) or non-credit (continuing education certificate). 

Certificates of attendance or participation in short-term programs (like a day-long intensive) fall outside of this scope. Not every certification program is entitled to federal funds like federal financial aid. While many certificates last for the earners lifetime, some have to be renewed or earners have to consistently meet requirements. Certificates are used for many levels of knowledge or skill acquisition, from foundational to post-graduate.

Ecosystem Relationship

A certificate is offered by education and training providers and is valued and verified within the learn-and-work ecosystem. It can be considered part of the skills ecosystem and is typically viewed as part of credentialing. 

Types/Examples

SUNY:  microcredentials and credit-bearing certificates.

Alternative Terminology

While similar, certificates vary slightly from degrees, credentials, and badges, but those terms may be used alongside certificates or describe similar processes. 

See Also

Certification: A certification indicates a mastery or competency of specific knowledge or skills as measured against a set of predetermined standards. Certifications are awarded after assessment and validation of skills. They can be offered through educational programs, but are usually delivered in cooperation with businesses, trade associations, or industry groups. Usually earners must continue to meet the ongoing requirements to maintain the meaning and value of the certification.  Examples include CPR certification, pharmacy technician certification, web developer certification, medical billing certification, BLS certification, ASE certification, etc. 

Credential: A credential is a documented award by a responsible and authorized body that attests that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes or attained a defined level of knowledge or skill relative to a given standard. Credential is often viewed as an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional and industry certifications. Some do not include degrees within the term, credentials, creating confusion as to whether degrees are credentials.

Skills and Competencies: Skills define specific learned activities, and they range widely in terms of complexity. Knowing which skills a person possesses helps to determine whether their training and experience has prepared them for a specific type of workplace activity. Competencies identify the observable behaviors that successful performers demonstrate on the job. Those behaviors are the result of various abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, and traits an employee may possess. Competencies take “skills” and incorporate them into on-the-job behaviors. Those behaviors demonstrate the ability to perform the job requirements competently.

References

Credential-As-You-Go-Dictionary-Links.pdf (credentialasyougo.org)

Credential Engine’s Counting U.S. Postsecondary & Secondary Credentials (2/2021): Type of award conferred by a college, university, or other postsecondary education institution indicating the satisfactory completion of a non-degree program of study. Typically, the course requirements for earning a certificate are less than those for earning a degree. Most certificates require no more than one year of full-time academic effort. A certificate may be for-credit (academic certificate) or non-credit (continuing education certificate). This credential category only counts Title IV-eligible academic certificates at Title IV institutions. Students enrolled in continuing education programs or academic certificates with less than 300 clock hours at Title IV institutions are not eligible to receive federal financial aid to apply towards their program tuition. These shorter programs are not included in this count but are included in the Non-Title IV Certificates count.

Non-degree Credentials Research Network (NCRN): Educational certificate is a credential awarded by an educational institution based on completion of all requirements for a program of study, including coursework and test or other performance evaluations. Certificates are typically awarded for life (like a degree). Certificates of attendance or participation in a short-term training (e.g., 1 day) are not in the definitional scope for educational certificates.

SUNY: Issued by an institution in recognition of the completion of a curriculum that usually represents a smaller domain of knowledge than established degrees. Credit-bearing certificates must be approved by SUNY and registered with the State Education Department. These certificates typically contain fewer credits than a degree program. All credits must be applicable toward a degree program at the issuing institution. Noncredit certificates need no external approval and must be identified as such.

Understanding Certifications - Workcred, CSW,  GWIPP (2020): Awarded by an education institution or other organization based on completion of all requirements for a program of study, including coursework and tests. They are not time limited and do not need to be renewed.

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