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Which is More Valuable: College Degree or Certification?
Which is More Valuable: College Degree or Certification?

Which is More Valuable: College Degree or Certification?

Earlier today I came across an article, Certification—Is it worth it?  This topic comes up in my discussion circles periodically and I thought I’d share my own thoughts.

Coming from the perspective of a hiring manager, I can say there are clearly cases where a certification can have equal, or greater, standing than a diploma.

jtpedersen_degree_certification_diplomaWhen hiring software developers, you may find someone with a degree in Computer Science, or, with a Microsoft Certification, such as a MS Certified Software Engineer. There are many, specific certs from MS and other reputable entities.

With reputable, recognized, certifications there are some key benefits. First, since the certifications are well-defined, you -know- what the individual is certified to know. Frequently the certifications are multi-day evaluations, involving written tests as well as practical application (diagnose why a network isn’t working, or write some code).
The other big positive with many certifications: They require periodic (e.g. annual) re-certification with continuing education in order to remain current.

The problem with a degree, is that they’re typically ‘mushy.’ Basically a Computer Science degree tells me the person *went to a 4 year college (and maybe not the same one all the way through); *spent about half their time (e.g. discounting general studies) actually doing something involving software; and, *the school said they know something.

2013 - University of Michigan - Ann ArborSince every college has their own variation on otherwise accredited programs, you don’t -really- know what you’re buying (hiring). In many cases, newly minted software engineers (degreed, not certified) have zero work experience and can be rather immature. Degrees also do not require continuing education to remain valid.

From a purely personal perspective, my eldest daughter has recently started college. With the costs of a degree skyrocketing, and the specific value of the degree being questionable, it is very hard to determine a real-world ROI.

How can I explain to my 19 year old daughter what it might be like to acquire $150-190,000 in debt? That she may need 20 years to pay it off. And, that she might -still- end up serving food after 4 years?

Having been a ‘purchaser’ of goods, I can tell you, I’d rather hire a lightly experienced—certified—developer, than a degreed student with no meaningful work experience. This can also come into play for folks looking to do career path changes when considering yet another degree vs. certification.

Of course, my narrative only works in fields where meaningful certifications can be obtained.

I am very curious on your perspectives. How do you feel about the value of degrees versus certifications (where applicable) in today’s reality?

Image credit(s):
Diploma – Mary Gober
Arch & Student – Torben Photography
Glassroom – Ann-Kathrin Rehse


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