Certificate proposal sparks debate

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At their Oct. 24 meeting, the board of trustees questioned a proposal by Ian Wilson, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, to introduce three different levels of educational certificates.

“These certificates help meet the 66 percent goal that the state has to try to get more of our citizens with a university degree,” Wilson said.

The lowest level certificates consist of completion of mostly lower level classes, for example, a digital cinema certificate of 15 credits. However, discussion sparked by Ron Hawkins, second vice chair and audit committee chair, covered the pros and cons of a student getting a certificate verses a degree in the workforce.

“I’m wondering if we are deluding, in some way, the accomplishment of a university education, and as the dean said earlier, almost providing an escape-hatch for non-completion. And I say that very respectfully,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins made the distinction that he was fully in support of upper level certificates that require over 26 credits and upper division status but that lower level certificates may diminish value of a university degree.

Alluding to a children’s soccer game where every kid gets a participation trophy in the end, Hawkins said, “The whole idea was you’re teaching my kids that they get something for just showing up and yet you get them in the workforce and now we’ve got a problem because they’re used to that.”

Adding onto Hawkins comment, Greg Butterfield, board member, said, “I had the same question. Is this part of the governor’s goal to get a certain level of education? How much of this is being driven by demand verses a ‘no child left behind situation?”

In response, Wilson replied that certificates are designed with a certain skillset in mind.

There are lots of reasons that students choose not to graduate from UVU. Institutional research has found that, historically, a large amount of students have left UVU before graduating in the past ten years.

Retention on a yearly basis has increased to only 60.9 percent. UVU also has the lowest female graduation rate in the state. Students who choose a certificate instead of continuing onto a degree may find difficulties later on as Hawkins discussed with UVU’s academic deans.

“I heard that sometimes [a] student leaves and we leave them in a dead-ended position three or four or five years from now when they come back – that perhaps if we encouraged them to stay longer, because we had to, then they’re better off in the long term setting,” said Hawkins.

The advantages of non-traditional students and even trade students receiving certificates of proficiency were discussed, given that those students might not have the immediate time or money to spend on a whole four-year degree. Additionally, it is thought that certificates might even encourage students to come back to the school after finishing a certificate and hopefully aiding UVU’s enrollment.

“The phenomenon of students leaving is obviously happening in the thousands,” said President Holland. “I can’t speak to the exact conversation you were having, but we are leaving money on the table for students who have been here, do substantial amounts of work and then leave for industry because they’re industry-ready and say ‘we may or may not come back.’ They ought to be given some credit for that.”

Such need for accreditation has lead Holland to lean towards offering educational certificates of proficiency. Yet he has said he will be keeping is eye out for any “perverse” incentives of non-completion.