Certificates Increasing in Popularity at North Dakota Colleges

As North Dakota’s public colleges gear up for graduation weekend, the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University are set to award over half of the degrees and certificates.

Among the remaining nine institutions, Bismarck State College takes the spotlight as the next in line for the graduation procession.

When it comes to the distribution of graduates, UND takes a significant share of 33%, while NDSU follows closely with 28% according to the latest figures from 2023. Bismarck State College is accountable for 9.6% of program completions.

Not all program completions lead to a two-year or four-year degree.

Bismarck State College offers a variety of programs, including certificates of less than one year duration like mobile app development, as well as two-year programs such as nursing, and a few four-year programs.

North Dakota University System Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Lisa Johnson. (North Dakota University System)
“The campuses are witnessing a remarkable rise in the number of certificates being developed,” observed Lisa Johnson, Vice Chancellor of Student and Academic Affairs.

She highlighted that out of the 210 academic programs endorsed by the State Board of Higher Education through the North Dakota University System office in the previous year, a noteworthy 142 were certificate programs.

“Campuses are exploring innovative ways to repackage existing programs as certificates, enabling students to complete smaller increments potentially while in high school,” Johnson elaborated.

Although the number of graduates from North Dakota colleges and universities has slightly decreased by almost 6% over the past five years, program completions have only seen a marginal dip of about 3%, with some students attaining multiple degrees or certificates.

Johnson analyzed data spanning 2019 to 2023, encompassing fall, spring, and summer graduates.

While the 11 public colleges are set to host their graduation ceremonies this weekend, Johnson pointed out that the finalization of data for the 2024 graduating class is still pending.

She underscored that the graduation trends mirror the enrollment patterns to a large extent.

A key factor attracting students is the robust job market, with North Dakota registering a low unemployment rate of just 2% as of March.

The conclusive count of graduates for the spring semester, compiled by the NDUS office, indicates:

– North Dakota State University – 1,988
– University of North Dakota – 1,896
– Bismarck State College – 903
– North Dakota State College of Science – 660
– Minot State University – 385
– Dickinson State University – 224
– Dakota College at Bottineau – 179
– Lake Region State College – 145
– Mayville State University – 138
– Williston State College – 136
– Valley City State University – 119

Students of Bismarck State College attend a graduation ceremony May 10, 2024, at the Bismarck Event Center. (Michael Achterling/North Dakota Monitor)

Many certificate programs aim to address specific workforce requirements, such as meat cutting at North Dakota State College of Science and Dickinson State University.

Some programs are tailored to assist professionals in acquiring or upholding a specific license.

“Teachers, for instance, might pursue certificates, like working with individuals on the autism spectrum, to enhance their skill set for new job roles or extra responsibilities without committing to a full degree program,” Johnson mentioned.

Other certifications cater to personal interests or potential side businesses.

“Photography and digital design programs not only serve community needs but also offer a different avenue for personal enrichment,” Johnson highlighted.

North Dakota Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. North Dakota Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Amy Dalrymple for questions: info@northdakotamonitor.com. Follow North Dakota Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

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