University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Upgrading Your Education Through Graduate Certificates

Businesswoman receiving graduate certificate
August 23, 2022  |  By Stephen Caldwell

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The need for more flexible and specialized university-level educational opportunities has given rise to graduate certificates and micro-certificates – credentials that count as college credits and that students can add to their resumes but that don’t require a commitment to a full degree program. 

The University of Arkansas offers around two dozen such programs, including five through the Sam M. Walton College of Business.  

One category of Walton College graduate certificates sits within the discipline of enterprise systems and includes four options offered through the Department of Information Systems. The other, a graduate certificate in entrepreneurship, is offered through the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation but is open to graduate students from any discipline across the University of Arkansas campus. Several other graduate certificate programs are in the approval process, including some from other Walton College academic departments. 

Graduate certificates differ from executive education courses, which also are targeted programs but are shorter in duration, don’t go as deep into the content, and don’t earn students credit toward an advanced degree.  

The Walton College offers enterprise systems graduate certificates in business analytics, cybersecurity and data, enterprise resource planning, and blockchain enterprise systems. These certificates require less investment of time and money than pursuing a full master’s degree, while offering a high value in terms of learning very targeted skills.  

Students can earn graduate certificates by completing 12 hours of coursework that is taught in a blended format – mostly online but with some in-person classes on Saturdays. That flexibility makes them attractive to working professionals, as well as busy full-time students. Micro-certificates can be completed with as little as six hours of credit.  

Working professionals often seek graduate certificates so they can add specific skills they need for their current career or because they are looking to make a career shift. Other students see the graduate certificates as resume builders – bonus areas of expertise that can give them a competitive advantage when applying for jobs. Students in the MBA program, for instance, might add a graduate certificate or micro-certificate to beef up their skills in specific areas that are in high demand among employers (such as business analytics). 

Some students also use the graduate certificate programs to test drive the master’s degree program. In other words, many end up applying their credits toward the online Professional Master of Information Systems or the Applied Business Analytics programs

Students pursuing a graduate certificate in entrepreneurship must have an accredited undergraduate degree, but the program is unique in that it accepts students from all disciplines, not just business. Students with undergraduate degrees in engineering, art, music, or sciences join business students to form cohorts who learn the foundations of entrepreneurship. Uniquely, this certificate program is even open to members of the community who are not enrolled in any degree program at the UA. 

The graduate certificate in entrepreneurship offers students two paths. One allows students to form teams that build business plans and enter competitions that often result in funding for start-up businesses. The other is a non-competition track. 

Graduate certificates, regardless of the discipline, are growing in popularity and importance because the needs of the marketplace are changing so rapidly. Innovations in technology are impacting the roles machines (AI) and people play in the workforce. A 2017 study by McKinsey Global Institute, for instance, predicted that 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) would need to switch “occupational categories” by 2030 because of automation. And many others will need to “adapt” as their occupational roles evolve. 

“Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment,” the report said, “or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate.” 

Deanna Mulligan, the former CEO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company whose work now focuses on helping companies close the “skills gap,” points out that some employers are looking at “credentials” rather than “degrees” when making hires and that continuing education is essential for employees in the future.  

“Whatever skills you graduate with from whatever institution,” she said, “they’re going to be obsolete in probably 5 to 10 years. Not all the skills, obviously, but some of what you might think of as core job skills, technical skills are just going to continue to change.” 

Universities, of course, provide education around principles and theories that don’t change fundamentally, even though they evolve over time. And programs such as graduate certificates allow them to adapt to trends and advancements in technology so they can target specific skills and knowledge areas based on the changing times.  

Matt WallerStephen Caldwell is Chief Word Architect for WordBuilders, Inc., where he spends most of his time helping clients discover, craft, and share the messages of their hearts. In addition to writing and editing for newspapers, magazines, and on numerous book projects, he has developed leadership and functional training for Fortune 500 companies. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.