The ‘Cash Cow’ of U.S. Universities: Professional Certificates Instead of Degrees

Ann McClure's picture

Reggie Herndon returned to college because he wanted to change careers. What he didn’t want was another degree.

Herndon, a University of Tennessee graduate from Lynchburg, Va., is on his way instead to finishing a nine-month professional certificate in counterintelligence from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., which he hopes will bolster his odds of landing a job as an intelligence analyst with a defense contractor or government agency.

“I decided that I wanted to re-engineer myself,” said Herndon, 56, who handles marketing for an employment program runs under contract to the Social Security Administration. “But I didn’t want to go back and do the whole graduate program, and come out with a tremendous amount of debt.”

Responding to demand from more and more students like Herndon, universities are jumping into the business of providing professional certificates that were once the domain of community colleges and for-profit providers like the University of Phoenix.

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