One of my heroes is Booker T. Washington, world renowned educator and founder of historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama. As a former slave turned educator, his goal for the students was “self-reliance” and he accomplished this by teaching the practical skills needed to succeed at farming and other trades typical of the rural South.
Conversely, other black leaders of the time like William Edward Burghardt Du Bois advanced a theory that blacks needed classical education as a way to create an intellectual elite who would advance widespread societal change. Washington was all about industrial education arguing that “if the students possess the skills to be useful to employers, they will always find work.”
I mention this because I’m a member of the curriculum advisory committee for a private, nonprofit college, and earlier today I attended a roundtable discussion. It was the usual fare, the dean’s polite introduction, a tasty lite lunch, and then separating into small groups to discuss class loads and content for various majors.
Last year I attended their annual meeting and spoke on IT certifications, particularly how valuable they are to job seekers. The college’s IT teachers agreed with me and told of how they had begun making certifications part of their various curricula. Many students graduated with certs, some with as many as three or more. One young man had 11.
This year, the results are even better — every one of their computer science majors has at least two certs. Even better, 100 percent of the computer jocks are graduating with IT job offers. No schlepping pizzas or working as baristas for this crew — they are going to be too busy getting on with their careers
Certifications have worked so well for IT students that the school is now moving to include various certifications in all majors. This includes certs for healthcare administration, graphic arts, accounting, and business management.
The school’s reasons for introducing certifications into all majors are straightforward:
- Unlike static textbooks, certifications include up-to-date information on the latest advances.
- They help create an environment of blended learning where students take personal responsibility for their learning.
- Because students are shown that many job listings mention certifications, the certs act as a motivator.
- Certifications provide valuable hands-on training.
In many ways, the battle of ideas between Washington and Du Bois continues today. I’m a fan of classical education and believe that a thorough knowledge of the past is essential to a country’s well-being and growth. But experience has taught me that high-minded thoughts and beautiful imagery rarely pay the bills.
One must have something to offer in exchange for that #FilthyLucre we all love so well, and a certification is an excellent way to develop an in-demand skill set.
Clearly, certifications are finding their place in our economy. They open doors to career advancement and opportunities for even the most common individual from the meanest of circumstances. I imagine that that is something about which Mr. Washington and Mr. Du Bois would both smile and agree.
About the Author — Calvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. Whenever the pizza delivery guy asks for a tip, Calvin tells him to get a certification.