Graduate Certificates, Microcertificates Can Be Earned Online to Boost Careers

October 27, 2022  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

What are graduate certificates and microcertificates and why would you be interested in getting one? And did you know you can study online at the University of Arkansas to get one?

Today's learners demand a variety of options to meet their career needs. Some learners want specific knowledge and expertise in a specialty area without completing added coursework necessary for a degree. For these students, graduate certificates can be earned with about 12 credit hours, or about four college courses, and microcertificates can be gained with about half as many credit hours.

Working professionals in business and engineering use graduate certificates and microcertificates in two career-boosting ways, U of A faculty members say. They want to learn skills needed right away for a particular project their company has taken on, to qualify for a promotion at their job or to apply for a new job. Or they want to begin coursework that can lead to a master's degree.

The U of A's academic colleges offer 19 graduate and post-graduate certificates and 10 graduate microcertificates online with assistance from the Global Campus. Of those, the College of Engineering offers six graduate certificates and six microcertificates, and the Sam M. Walton College of Business offers one graduate certificate and three microcertificates. A complete list of more than 75 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs available online can be found at

"Every one of our graduate certificates and microcertificates allows space to where they could take those and roll them directly into a degree."

Rich Ham, Associate director of the Master of Science in Engineering Management and Master of Science in Operations Management programs

Photo of Rich Ham

Rich Ham

Tailoring Education to Needs

The U of A has offered online graduate certificates for about five years and microcertificates since earlier this year.

Rich Ham, associate director of the Master of Science in Engineering Management and Master of Science in Operations Management programs, said some certificates specify the four courses that must be taken but others are more flexible. There may be just two core courses required and the student can choose two elective courses. Students can tailor the certificate to their specific interests such as supply chain or analytics.

"In the case of advanced air mobility, they might have an interest long term to do homeland security, but they can get the microcertificate in advanced air mobility, which is used extensively in homeland security programs, and then take two other courses," Ham said. "The idea of stacking is you can start out with those two courses and get a microcertificate to get you on your way with a credential and then you can add to it depending on the certificate. You can add two more courses and get a full graduate certificate and get another credential on the way."

Students might want to go on to an engineering master's degree or they might simply want a deeper understanding of a particular area, he said. The College of Engineering offers four master's degrees online.

"Every one of our graduate certificates and microcertificates allows space to where they could take those and roll them directly into a degree," Ham said.

U of A professor Paul Cronan explained that certificates provide steppingstones for students.

Photo of Paul Cronan

Paul Cronan

"Some students only wanted six hours, not the full 12," Cronan said. "We saw this as a way for students to take the first six hours and basically get the idea, ‘Oh, I like this. I want to get a graduate certificate, or I might even want to get a master's.' Once they get microcertificates and graduate certificates, they are automatically admitted to the master's degree program. It works to their advantage. Those who finish with the microcertificates or graduate certificates have enough tools from those courses to immediately start using them in their jobs."

All master's students by default earn a graduate certificate with their degree, he said. They may be more likely to be looking for a job change than those who pursue a certificate only.

"Certificate students are working on problems in their company," Cronan said. "They want to up their skills, get this new skill set, learn a little bit more and perhaps contribute to their company. Some might want to move to another company but typically it's, ‘I want to use this in my job right now.'"

Faculty members in the colleges of business and engineering meet regularly with local business and industry leaders to be sure they are offering courses and degree programs that will prepare the workers needed in the region.

"We benchmark, get the feedback, make sure that we understand needs before the programs go forward," Ham said.


Graduate Certificates, Microcertificates May Lead to Promotions

Photo of Greg Parnell

Greg Parnell

The engineering graduate certificates and microcertificates can be completed fully online. Graduate degrees typically don't include minors like bachelor's degrees often do, Ham said, but the certificate appears on the graduate's transcript.

"They have that credential on their transcript for whenever they are looking to show somebody that they have expertise in that area," Ham said.

Students see what's happening in the companies for which they work and recognize additional education will ensure they can move around and advance within the company, he said.

"Lean Six Sigma and project management are no-brainers because, if you're in any large company in some shape, form or fashion, eventually you'll be a project or program manager and you'll need those skill sets and efficiency," Ham said.

Greg Parnell, director of the Master of Science in Operations Management and the Master of Science in Engineering Management programs, also offered online, said working professionals are often encouraged by supervisors or mentors to get more education.

"A lot of times it's the individual's mentor that says, I think you need to get some training to be a project manager or maybe you need to get some management leadership to move from a technical area to a management area or we need more understanding of analytics," Parnell said.

Many employees at the large companies in Northwest Arkansas want a credential from the U of A, in particular, Ham said. They could go to an online program elsewhere, but it doesn't have the same impact for them as education from a land-grant institution.

"They want it to come from the U of A," he said.

"Because we do the hands-on things, you come to class on Saturday and you can apply what you learned at work on Monday. That is one of the things our students have often said they like about it."

Beth Keiffer, Senior associate director of graduate programs, Sam M. Walton College of Business

Photo of Beth Keiffer

Beth Keiffer

Feedback Guides Development of Offerings

Walton College certificates and microcertificates (with a focus in Business Analytics, Enterprise Resource Planning or Blockchain) are blended in presentation, which means that, in addition to online coursework, students come to the Fayetteville campus one Saturday a month during each semester for an in-person class with their cohort students.

Faculty took the lead from students when they decided to offer their certificates in an online and face-to-face blended format, Cronan said. Students said they wanted a paper book, and they wanted time to get together and talk to each other. Faculty members may bring prospective students to the Saturday classes to talk to the students in the class, he said. Those students do a lot of the work of recruiting by describing their positive experiences in the program, he said.

Cronan advised applying early because of space limitations in programs. Application information is available the U of A ONLINE website.

Beth Keiffer, a teaching assistant professor in information systems, serves as senior associate director of graduate programs with instructor Michael Dereszynski, co-associate director.

"Because we do the hands-on things, you come to class on Saturday and you can apply what you learned at work on Monday," Keiffer said. "That is one of the things our students have often said they like about it."

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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Academic colleges at the University of Arkansas offer 15 gradaute certificates, four post-graduate certificates and 10 microcertificates.

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Graduate Certificates and Microcertificate

Sam M. Walton College of Business

Graduate Certificate


College of Engineering

Graduate Certificates