By Ysabel Nehring
Although Utah State University wasn’t her first pick for college, Chloe Wilson looks back on her education with gratitude.
“I’m glad I ended up at USU Eastern because they have a really excellent welding program and wonderful instructors,” said Wilson. “I feel lucky to have trained under and alongside very talented welders.”
Wilson took concurrent enrollment classes in high school through Utah Valley University and was able to test out of some additional college courses thanks to high ACT scores. She then enrolled in the welding certificate program at USU, which offers a certificate of completion in welding technology after just two semesters of classes and shop experience.
After earning her certificate, Wilson continued to take courses and earned her associate’s degree in welding technology and general education in 2019. She has been professionally welding ever since. Wilson’s educational route was made possible through the Department of Aviation and Technical Education’s (AVTE) stackable programming efforts.
Bruce Miller, professor and head of the AVTE department at Utah State University, describes the degree stacking program as an incredible opportunity and advantage for students.
“A technical education from Utah State University provides students with access to high-quality, career-focused classes,” said Miller. “Stacking certificates and degrees can save students significant amounts of time and money.”
Some technical education certificate programs may be completed in one semester, while others take two or more to finish. There are two main advantages to stacking certificates and degrees: first, students save money by completing coursework at a certificate tuition rate rather than an undergraduate tuition rate; and second, educational milestones are reached faster, allowing students to enter the industry of their choice sooner without losing progress toward an advanced degree.
“The ability to stack my degrees and certificates definitely helped streamline my college experience and helped me graduate quickly with no student debt,” said Wilson. “It’s a convenient, accessible and affordable option, in my opinion, and removes some barriers to higher education, especially in the skilled trades.”
To lessen the burden of the cost even further, USU is taking steps toward making certificate and degree programs more accessible to students who are employed full-time. This includes offering courses in the evening as well as extending summer enrollment options. Students like Wilson are then able to work full-time while completing their program.
Besides cost, a major obstacle for students, especially “non-traditional” students or students who are already employed in the industry or who are older adults, is the time required to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs can be completed quickly and, once completed, are recognized and valued by potential employers.
For instance, an individual who has earned 32 credits toward a bachelor’s degree program but has not been able to complete that program cannot effectively market their skills to future employers. However, the same individual with a 32-credit certificate would be able to not only use that education to their advantage in a job search, but also return to their education in the future without starting over or worrying about credits expiring.
Students can also start an entry-level certificate program in high school and then “stack” their credentials toward greater and more valuable industry endorsements or licensure.
For example, the certified nursing assistant certificate can be applied toward, or “stacked,” into the medical assistant certificate. Similarly, the entry-level certificate of proficiency in phlebotomy builds a foundation for further licenses in the health professions industry.
USU currently offers 43 certificate programs, including 28 certificate programs through the College of Agriculture and Applied Science (CAAS). In addition, CAAS offers 14 associate degree programs in technical education with focuses ranging from cosmetology to digital design to welding and heavy equipment operation. To learn more about program options, visit the website Stackable.usu.edu or contact an academic advisor.