The University of Arizona

Supporting Career Success, AZ Workforce w/ Melissa Vito

In 2012, the Center on Education and the Workforce found certificates were the fastest growing postsecondary credential and made up 22 percent of all college awards. But despite its' growing popularity, many people today are still skeptical about the value of certificates.

We caught up with Melissa Vito, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Enrollment Management and Strategic Initiatives, to learn more about certificate programs, and their value and impact on the workforce. 

Let’s start with why.  Why a certificate program instead of just a high school diploma or associate’s degree?

Melissa: For a lot of students, especially working professionals, certificate programs are just more convenient and flexible for their schedule. Students can learn at their own pace and have the opportunity to advance their existing career or change careers entirely.

Additionally, I think many students find certificates appealing because it brings a level of credibility and pedigree to their education. In our case, many of our certificate seeking students have told us that they liked the UA’s strong reputation as an academic research institution.

While we’re on the topic of certificates at the UA, could you tell us what programs are available? Have demands for these programs risen in recent years?

Melissa: Right now, we have over 30 certificate programs at the UA. Not surprisingly, high-demand fields such as cybersecurity and web development are some of our most popular programs.

For example, the UA Coding Boot Camp, which teaches students the basics of web-development in just 24 weeks, began with a single cohort of 25 students. Now, it’s up to five cohorts with locations in Chandler and Gilbert.

Due to its success, our Continuing and Professional Education team is preparing to launch a similarly-structured Data Analytics Boot Camp in October.

One of the things that I’ve noticed recently is the growing number of companies offering their employees tuition benefits to pursue a college certificate. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Melissa: Certificate programs have a natural connection to the workforce. Employers want to nurture talent and retain their best people. Certificates are a way to do that.

Recently, we’ve worked with corporate partners to develop customized certificates, as high as a master’s degree level, that not only help them educate and retain their best employees but give these companies a competitive talent edge in their industry.

For example, we’ve teamed up with Caterpillar to create a custom educational experience called the Mining 360 program. This year-long program blends classroom and distance learning with the opportunity to learn, visit, and study active mine sites across the United States and Canada.

Let’s talk about the future. It seems likely the demand for certificate programs will continue to grow in the next couple of years. What is the UA doing to continue to stand out?

Melissa: We realized early on our certificate programs needed to be more than just a curriculum. We set out to provide our students all the tools that they need to be successful in their career. Our Coding Boot Camp is a reflection of that.  

Students have access to career-planning services and professional networks, including portfolio reviews, resume and social media profile support and one-on-one career coaching. Through this approach, our students are leaving with all the resources and hands-on, real-world experiences they need to thrive in the workforce.

In the near future, we’ll continue to find new ways to support our students and provide them with a world-class, engaged student experience. It’s an exciting time to be a Wildcat! 

This write up is an adapted interview from Melissa's talk with LA Weekly about the rise of certificate programs and continuing and professional education. Click here to read the LA Weekly piece.