Customized Education

Certificates offer students an opportunity to enhance their education, explore programs

By Katy Swordfisk | July 9, 2021


If living and learning through a global pandemic has taught the Portland State community anything, it’s that flexibility is essential. More and more frequently, students are turning toward non-traditional pathways to supplement and enhance their educational experience. Certificates are one of the keys to building a degree that best suits a student’s individual interests and career paths. 

“Certificates provide the additional flexibility that students are looking for when they're taken as part of a degree, but also provide a chance to be creative across disciplines,” said Michelle Giovannozzi, associate vice provost for Academic Innovation. 

Students working toward a degree in business, for example, might add a certificate in athletics and the outdoor industry to show industry relevance on their resume. An Spanish student might want to learn more about workplace intercultural competence and seek a certificate in that field to round out their education. 

"Adding a certificate can be a way to tailor a degree or combine two academic areas that you may not otherwise be combined and can be helpful in terms of future career opportunities,” Giovannozzi said. “Universities across the country are offering more stackable certificates that can be added onto each other in a cumulative way.” 

Students using mapping software

In PSU’s Graduate School, some programs are being designed in new, creative ways that utilize certificates. The Master’s in Applied Data Science from the School of Business features a core curriculum, for example, but then offers a mix of four certificates for students to choose from to customize their degree.

Rossitza Wooster, dean of the Graduate School, said in the Graduate School they are encouraging programs to design certificates to be stackable.

“Then a certificate becomes a springboard toward perhaps a more advanced degree,” Wooster said.

A focus on certificates is also useful for PSU’s nontraditional student population that may be balancing their education with an existing career or family. Students can complete a certificate, even if they are unable to complete an entire degree program, Wooster added.

“Certificates can be a good way to communicate experience and skill to employers, especially if their program offers or requires internship or practicum experience,” said Greg Flores, associate director of Career Services. “For a student without a lot of work experience, adding a certificate can be one way of providing evidence of their interest in an area.”

Exploring certificate programs can also provide students with an opportunity to explore a field and see if it is a good fit for them.

“Things like forest ecology, social entrepreneurship or political campaigning are good examples of this,” Flores said.

With more than 90 certificates available at PSU, the possibilities are seemingly endless.