Is $10k for an online graduate certificate worth it?

Northwestern University is offering an online certificate for future international educators (study abroad advisors, international student advisors, global program admins) for the price of $10,624.00. It’s a 1/2 year commitment for full time. The certificate program “prepares students for employment in various sectors of the international education field.”

As someone who has worked on both the university and vendor side of international education, from program management, to communications, to careers, I know the industry well. And I know that you don’t need a $10K graduate certificate to get into international education, especially for entry level roles.

Since this certificate prepares students for employment in international education, let’s take a look at the skills required for work in international education.

Here are the skills and requirements for a candidate seeking a study abroad advisor at North Dakota State University (starting salary: $36,000) :

And here are the skills and requirements for an Inbound Analyst at the Institute for International Education (aka an “NGO supporting these exchanges” as listed on the overview above). This associate-level role “monitors and advises a medium to large caseload of (more than 150) participants coming into the United States” and builds “networks with institutional partners and IIE constituents.” It’s a mid-level role, ideal for someone who isn’t fresh out of college.

So how does a certificate in Global Student Mobility prepare candidates for these types of roles?

It doesn’t.

Though the curriculum offers “a grounding in cross-cultural theories while also exploring the widening range of program types, methods of delivery, and the importance of experiential and service-learning exchanges,” the content doesn’t teach the skills desired in the job descriptions above. Communication skills, project management, and team work rank high, as well as the ability to interact with people from other cultures. These are skills gained from a candidate’s previous work, internships or projects, not from a certificate. While knowledge of the field no doubt helps, concrete skills like communication and prior work experience are what gets candidates hired.

The certificate also offers nothing for career prep (i.e. mentorship, networking, virtual professional hangouts), just a little note on “interesting opportunities.” For a certificate that claims to prepare students for employment in international education, this is disappointing.

So to learn about the field of international education it’s going to cost students $10,624.00.

Fun fact: the average salary for a study abroad advisor is $36K according to Glassdoor.

I know higher education needs (and relies on) revenue generating programs like this. I’m a huge supporter of online education (albeit, reasonably priced online education). I also know the value of cross-cultural theory and its importance in global work environments like international education offices. But this certificate just seems like a rip off for students. Students are likely to get more relevant experience in international education by volunteering or working abroad in an NGO or startup for 6 months instead. They’d likely save money and have a more interesting time as well.

So to experienced international educators: think back to the beginning of your career. What would make paying $10k for an online certificate worth it to you? 

A: Real life experience: completing a project that made an impact on an existing international exchange program

B: Mentoring from experienced professionals in the field, with weekly hangouts, introductions to other international educators, and customized career support for international educators.

C: A 75% discount

D: Areyoufuckingkiddingmenope

Tweet me your answer at @pdxnicolle.