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March 30, 2023

New certificate programs available for undergraduates

by Liz Fuller

When we talk about earning certificates in college, we might initially think of micro-credentials for graduate students or Agricultural Technology degrees. We may not consider that certificate programs could be an option for undergrads. At MSU, however, this is becoming a reality with the introduction of a new policy that allows units to create undergraduate certificates, or UGCs, leveraging existing resources from across campus to provide a credential that students can take with them after graduation. Under the coordinated leadership of Assistant Dean for Global Education and Curriculum Jim Lucas, supported by Director of University Advising and Academic Engagement Initiatives Beth Judge, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Glenn Chambers, and Chief Academic Digital Officer Brendan Guenther, this policy outlines goals and requirements for the different types of UGCs that can be designed.

Defined as a set of programmatic or thematically linked curricular and co-curricular activities that serves as a micro-credential, UGCs are distinct from majors and minors. “They serve to broaden participants’ work across disciplines, deepen their abilities within a discipline, and/or make their individualized academic work more distinctive and apparent on their academic record,” said Lucas. “UGC offerings align with goals that advance MSU’s mission and support strategic planning efforts.”

Specifically, the UGC initiative seeks to:

  • Strengthen MSU’s ability to attract and meet the needs, goals and aspirations of undergraduate students
  • Increase the number and diversity of learners MSU serves through targeted programs and proactive engagement with underserved communities
  • Strengthen students’ educational experience to eliminate opportunity gaps and support success through graduation and beyond
  • Develop new strategies to recruit and retain highly talented, diverse students across all disciplines
  • Ensure students and stakeholders have access to MSU and its resources to address current and emerging issues affecting Michigan and the world

Undergraduate certificates will have varying structures based on a typology, with some UGCs being aimed at specific majors or Colleges, some serving non-MSU guest students, and some being open to all undergraduates, but they must all adhere to the UGC basic requirements:

  • Include 9 to 12 credit-hours, the equivalent in contact time, or mixture of the two
  • State learning outcomes and assessment process for all aspects of the program
  • State admission criteria and application process
  • Have transparent policies on acceptance of transfer or credits taken before admission, as well as standards for double-counting and unique credits
  • Have a sponsoring academic unit (e.g., APUE, College, Department, or School)

There are four new types of undergraduate certificates, with the fifth type reflecting the Institute for Agricultural Technology (IAT) certificate that is awarded in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for their degree programs. “UGC certificate types range from Type 1 which is extremely focused in topic and scope, to Type 4 which is broadly open to undergraduate students as well as non-MSU guests with a focus on soft skills of interest to all majors,” explained Lucas.

The table below outlines the expectations for each certificate type.

Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4
Audience: MSU Students Audience: MSU or Guests Audience: Guests Audience: MSU or Guests
Focus: Narrow; disciplinary
or interdisciplinary; focused on
specific majors or
academic programs
Focus: Medium; interdisciplinary
or professional skills; Open to a specific
College or Colleges
Focus: Professional, skill-based;
May be focused on a specific
stakeholder or professional group
Focus: Broad; interdisciplinary
or professional skills;
Open to most students and guests
regardless of major
Primarily coursework,
with some experiential
Mix of coursework
and experiential
Format: No coursework,
all experiential
Format: Mix of coursework
and experiential
Academic colleges,
departments, or schools
Administration: Colleges;
APUE in partnership
Administration: Academic departments,
schools, or colleges;
APUE in partnership
Administration: APUE in partnership
Approval: 1.) Academic Department;
2.) College; 3.) UCC and UCUE
Approval: 1.) College or APUE;
2.) UCC and UCUE
Approval: 1.) Academic department;
2.) College or APUE;
3.) APUE and UCUE
Approval: 1.) APUE;
2.) UCC and UCUE

Since the release of the UGC policy last fall, there have already been compelling developments in program planning, with particular interest being shown toward global and DEI themed certificates. Currently, campus partners are working on a conflict resolution certificate which brings together academic departments with units from Student Life and Engagement and includes substantial experiential learning as part of the design. Mackenzie Fritz, Associate Director of the Office of Student Support and Accountability, described the inspiration behind the development of this certificate: “Students tell us they don’t know how to engage in conflict and this certificate will help by teaching them how to engage in healthy conflict, which could reduce stress and mental health concerns.”

Undergraduate certificates are an opportunity to provide structured learning experiences that respond to student need. It can focus on specific skills, on a career path or on soft skills needed for life’s journey. Students will carry these lessons forward through their undergraduate careers and beyond.

For support with learning outcomes, certificate development, or partnerships with APUE, please contact the Assistant Dean for Global Education and Curriculum Jim Lucas.

For support related to submitted transcriptable certificates through the MSU curriculum process, UCC, and related academic policies, please contact the University Curriculum Administrator Joy Speas.