IT Certification on Campus

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Let’s play ball! There are a number of ways to prepare for, and accomplish, your certification goals to get you into the certification ball game. There is the self-taught method through books, self-prep tests and practical application. There is the boot-camp method, which takes you swiftly through curriculum and hands-on skills in a group setting. There is also face-to-face training through commercial training institutions; while they may be an expensive solution, they tend to expedite the certification preparation process. However, there is one prep solution that may help you hit a home run: training and education through academic institutions—community colleges, four-year colleges and universities. Academic institutions not only provide the needed training to prepare you to take certification exams, but they also can offer a well-rounded program of study that will, in some instances, land you a college degree in the process. The certification curriculum that emanates from academic institutions tends to provide both the hands-on application as well as the theoretical basis for becoming an IT professional. This article focuses on the whys and wherefores, the ins and outs, the pros and cons of getting certified through academic institutions. Specifically, we’ll talk about what these institutions are, why they are in the certification business and how you, the certification candidate, can benefit. The Starting Lineup First of all, where are these colleges, and why have they added certification credentials to their educational offerings? Most of the institutions that play in the field are community colleges with a sprinkling of four-year colleges and universities added to the mix. By their very nature, the mission of community colleges is to serve their communities by creating avenues for individuals to obtain a vocation. The types of jobs acquired from attending community colleges are typically technician-like in nature; for example, computer technicians, operators and network administrators, construction apprentices and LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurse). The primary focus of the supporting curriculum is to provide skills and knowledge quickly to students so they can get out into the workforce. Where would we be without our community college system? The community college provides a mechanism for just about anyone to attend college. No entrance exams are required, no minimum GPA requirements, classes are open to all, and compared to other forms of education, costs are minimal. This essentially creates an affordable means for just about anyone to advance their knowledge and skills through education. The exit point of the community college is also flexible. You can take one course, a series of courses to pursue a certificate, a full curriculum to complete an associate’s degree or preparatory classes that will help you matriculate to a four-year institution for a bachelor’s degree. The four-year college has some of the same benefits as the two-year community college: easy access to classes, affordability and flexibility of offerings. Most universities that offer a certification curriculum offer it as a separate certificate program through continuing education programs. However, there are colleges, such as St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and California State University – Fresno, that incorporate certification programs with degree programs. CSU – Fresno’s program, for example, is the first of its kind to offer both a bachelor’s and a master’s in industrial technology. Both degree programs incorporate the Cisco Network Academy framework within their curriculums. Students who enroll in the programs can expect to get both technical as well as managerial perspectives in network system management. A bachelor’s or master’s degree program like this may be something to consider as you look at promotional opportunities in your career. Covering All the Bases So what type of certification education programs are typically offered by academic institutions? In terms of content, these programs cover networking, Wintel-based and UNIX-based platforms and operating systems, database administration and basic PC technologies. Many common certification programs are offered: Cisco’s Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Network Professional (CCNP) and Security Professional (CCSP) certifications, Microsoft’s Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Administrator (MCSA) credentials, CompTIA’s A+ and Network+ and Oracle’s Oracle Certified Associate (OCA) and Professional (OCP) certifications. These credentials can be offered in a myriad of formats. Some colleges offer certificate programs only; some offer extended certificate programs that include additional curriculum. Others combine the credential with additional courseware requirements so that students can obtain a college degree. Such is the case with Montgomery College’s Network Engineering AAS (Associate of Arts/Sciences) program (, located in Montgomery County, Md. Students take a course of study that has them completing two classes per semester, allowing them to graduate in about two years. The curriculum not only covers the basics, say, for a CCNA program, but also requires candidates to take additional courseware in humanities, communications, math and health sciences. David Hall, Ph.D., director of the Information Technology Institute, said, “We are part of the Cisco Network Academy program; however, we teach beyond the specified curriculum. This allows us to offer both the practical as well as theoretical frameworks associated with networks and networking technologies. In turn, the college allows us to offer an Associate of Arts/Sciences degree.” Other community colleges, such as Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif. (, only offer certificate programs. Jason Halasa, Ph.D., computer information technology program director, explained, “Most of our students have already completed college degrees. They are more interested in keeping up with the latest changes in technology.” Still, Halasa requires students to take a communication class as part of the curriculum. “It’s one thing to be able to design and administer a network. It’s quite another to be able to get up in front of a group of people and talk about it,” he said. Bellevue Community College’s Information Technology program ( offers both two-year associate’s degrees as well as continuing education certificate programs. Located in Bellevue, Wash., the college provides training seven days a week to help meet the community’s demands to stay technologically current. Spring Training Colleges and universities provide a combination of various means of training delivery. While some programs are moving in the direction of e-learning/distance education, the primary delivery method is instructor-led, with labs being a critical component of the training. Hall of Montgomery College said, “While some of the courses say they are self-paced, don’t be misled. The labs for these courses are difficult enough that students need the assistance of an instructor to guide them through.” For Mission College students, self-paced courseware is not really an option. “We want to make sure students perform their labs in front of an instructor. That way we can really verify they know what they are doing,” said Halasa. Some colleges, such as Southern Methodist University (SMU) ( and Bellevue Community College provide a blended approach to learning. This approach includes additional materials and online resources that are accessible to the

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