By Rob Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
For college undergrads and graduate students, or even those looking to go back to school after a long hiatus, prospects in the current job market can be daunting. Students will take any opportunity — an internship, extra lab work — just to try and get a leg up on the competition.
A handful of universities across the country have taken note and are now offering certificate programs. These programs, typically offered online, allow students to supplement their education with specific, marketable skills that will help in their post-collegiate job search or even earn them a promotion in their current career.
Areas of focus include social media marketing, business information systems and even compliance and governance, and the courses are typically taught by working professionals with an understanding of how their industries change on a daily basis.
Here in Delaware, Wilmington University is following the trend.
According to Dr. Jim Wilson, vice president of Academic Affairs, the certificate program falls in line with Wilmington University’s mission to provide access for students of varying ages in a range of career-oriented undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
“The certificate programs allow us to accommodate all levels of education, from those with a high school diploma to post-graduate students,” said Wilson. “Nearly all the certificates can fold into a full degree problem, so anyone looking to better themselves can benefit.”
Wilmington University is meeting the demand by offering certificates which include legal studies, conflict resolution, health information technology, game-based learning for educators, human resource management, digital marketing, entrepreneurship and small business management, SCADA cyber security, Microsoft .NET applications development, and lastly, compliance.
Each program encompasses anywhere between 15 and 21 credits, and can either complement an undergraduate degree (replacing elective credits), or act as a separate certification for those currently in the job market.
Lori Sitler, assistant professor and chair of the Government and Public Policy program at Wilmington University, is playing a major role in the Compliance Certificate. The program is geared to students who wish to gain specialized knowledge in the growing field of regulatory compliance.
“The shifting sands in the Delaware workforce, especially in the banking industry, are creating a demand for jobs in compliance,” said Sitler. “We use working professionals to help build and teach these certificate courses that
focus on the positions available in the marketplace. Our model is to use ‘scholarly practitioners’ from the field as instructors to offer students the real world view that they can’t get from a textbook.”
“You might be a business or government major, but if you really want to specialize your skill set, you can take the courses for the compliance certificate and add a lot to your resume,” said Sitler. “The same goes for people in the banking industry that maybe got in the door through customer service, but want the opportunity for advancement.”
When Sitler was looking to build the compliance program, she gathered local professionals as well as Wilmington University graduates working in the compliance arena. But when the 11-year veteran of the school went looking for a compliance certificate program to emulate, she found the best example at St. Louis University.
“I wasn’t sure whether another program even existed, until I found Dr. Nitish Singh’s program at St. Louis University, which offered a continuing education program to keep professionals abreast of what was going on in their current field,” said Sitler. “Dr. Singh had a consulting practice in ethics and compliance, so I made the connection with him.”
An assistant professor of international business at St. Louis University, Singh believes the need for compliance professionals is greater now than in recent history. He looks to the myriad banking and financial scandals of the past decade as the examples for stronger compliance.
“There is a great need for training so that we can be more vigilant in our compliance with financial institutions,” said Singh. “Few universities have defined programs, so to see a school in the northeast corridor, in what many might consider the hub of banking and finance, was wonderful.”
Singh says that Wilmington University’s locale makes for a great fit in offering a compliance certificate, but that in his experience, students from all over the world are interested in enrolling in compliance courses as they navigate the American financial landscape.
“We have students from Cameroon, Dubai, almost 10 different countries that enroll in the CEU courses [at St. Louis University] because they’re available on the Internet and can teach international students how things work here in the United States,” said Singh.
Wilmington University currently operates 14 locations in Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland, but being able to reach students around the world, as well as offering flexibility, is of special interest to Wilson.
“If you work third shift and don’t get done until 3 a.m., you can work on your certificate at a time that suits you, so the flexibility is there,” said Wilson. “We’ve seen growth in online learning for many years and it works hand in glove with what we do at Wilmington University. Our faculty are experienced and we have the online support students need, wherever they might be.”
Sitler says that whether the students are Delawareans looking to prepare for their local job market or from halfway around the globe, the benefits are the same. Training is available through online courses at Wilmington University, and it can make a difference between being employed and missing out on a coveted job.
“The benefits, especially for non-traditional students, are that they can gain expertise in a specific area, demonstrate their proficiency in said area, and gain a certificate or a skill that is in demand,” said Sitler. “Our university is about preparing students for the real world, and the certificate program is the perfect example of that mission.”