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Monday, July 05, 2010

New Directions in Certificates and Degree Programs

College degrees and certificate programs are constantly evolving to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of people seeking to keep their skills up to date. The recent economic crises, combined with an awareness of human impact on the environment have led to a new surge of innovation and new programs. Here are new directions in degrees and certificates programs.

Environmental LeadershipEven before the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a push to establish programs that examine the impact of human activity on the earth, and to bring together an interdisciplinary set of courses covering global and local interdependencies and the decision-making processes that are used to interlink the interests in a positive way. Focus areas include economic development, environmental science, energy policy, trade and commercial practices, ethics, responsible technology, climate change controversies, innovative entrepreneurship, and community sustainability.

An example of a program that falls into this category is Naropa University's MA in Environmental Leadership. The MA in Environmental Leadership is a "two-year, 39-credit residential program comprised of semester-long courses and an eight-day summer field course that involves a three-day wilderness solo. In the final year, students apply their leadership skills to a collaborative project within an organizational or community setting." (from the website). Naropa University is located in Boulder, CO. It is unfortunate that this program is residential; there are many ways to collaborate on projects in a distributed setting.

Environmental Design
Community planning, environmental science, economic development, and architecture come together to focus on all-encompassing "green design" -- not just for commercial, industrial, or trade, but also for residential and community development purposes. What is the best way to educate children in a way that optimizes learning environments, while maximizing energy efficiency, facilitating parental / family involvement, in a sustainable economic environment? Environmental design looks at how to facilitate functionality so that the processes and contexts allow the elements within a society to achieve sustainability goals.

University of Massachusetts Online offers a number of programs dealing with sustainability and the environment, including three launched in 2009 . They have a number of courses and certificate programs that involve green building, LEED certification, and a green built environment.

Sustainable Hospitality and TourismYou might be surprised to see the ways that the hospitality industry has transformed itself to achieve increased efficiencies and to respond to the need to be as green and sustainable as possible. The person entering the hospitality and tourism fields must be aware of how technology is being used to promote to market properties and programs, and how aggregators / bulk discounters have transformed the markets. Property managers must be able to implement and administer the "green" operations that incorporate alternative / renewable energy, waste reduction procedures, environmentally friendly chemicals and coolants, low-water plumbing, and locally-sourced inputs. In addition, hospitality professionals must understand the best ways to accommodate the evolving needs of conferences and conventions and to provide infrastructure for hybrid face-to-face / distance (web-conferencing, streaming media) delivery modes.

An example of a program / course in this category is LSM Business School's Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Sustainable Communities
Sustainability in difficult economic times may mean dramatic changes in the services that a community provides, as well as a vision for how to change and incorporate new technologies. A community that finds itself suddenly unsustainable may have to seek guidance in the following areas: innovative approaches to employment creation, launching and supporting web businesses, reconfigured educational structures and delivery, green building, alternative and renewable energy sources, reconfigured social safety nets, invigorating inclusion in training programs, community-centric law enforcement, smartgrids and smart growth.

A number of colleges and universities offer courses in green, sustainable building design, which often incorporates renewable energy. UC-Davis Extension has a certificate course in green buildings and sustainable design as a part of a cluster of sustainable programs certificates. Newer programs will need to metamorphose to incorporate innovative systems and "smart" systems that function not only to monitor and control, but also to link together previously unrelated activities in a kind of green energy mash-up.

Sustainable Health
For health care to be sustainable, it has to make sense on many different levels. The bottom line is that appropriate and effective access must be expanded. For example, it is important for the health system to avoid an over-reliance on hospitals and in hospital emergency rooms as sources for primary care. The trends now are to move primary care to urgent care facilities and even pharmacies for effective "one-stop shopping." There is also a trend toward expanded home health care to avoid, delay, or minimize institutionalization. Ethical issues, especially unexpected ones, are emerging. End-of-life issues, privacy, impact of new technologies, debates about medication, are a few.

Many programs incorporate public health care administration and health care infomatics. However, fewer programs focus on sustainability and bring in the interdisciplinary approach needed to fully appreciate the changes that will occur in the future. California State University East Bay's Management of Health Care Administration does include courses in sustainable and integrated health care. It could be argued that it's important to aggressively pursue more interdisciplinary elements, and to include psychology, sociology, ethics, and gerontology in addition to the other options.

Community, Environmental, Psychological, Social InterventionsThe media has made what was once hidden and denied a public preoccupation, if not a full-blown spectacle. There are popular web-streamable documentaries / news programs (60 Minutes, Vanguard, etc.) and reality television featuring (Intervention, Hoarders, Obsessed, etc.), along with countless blogs, wikis, and social networking sites. The result is a surge in demand for an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems that involve all levels of society, from the individual to family members, social services, businesses, and often even law enforcement.

While it's not a degree or certificate program, USC Marshall's "Reconnecting to Remain Competitive" event captures the spirit of what it will take to be able to adapt to changes and times.

Enhanced Recoveries and Community RevitalizationsCreating jobs for a community is not simply a matter of providing tax incentives to attract a manufacturing facility to your town. The new jobs are for the new economy, and while one might argue that they're still service-based, they involve an entirely different skill set. Communities must attract web businesses, and they must have the infrastructure capabilities to meet needs of the distributed workplace. More companies are hiring home-based workers, and where there are facilities, they often come in the form of server farms, or administrative offices, all of which have high energy and internet infrastructure needs. New education programs must provide students with opportunities to learn the new technologies, but, even more importantly, to display them in the form of portfolios and projects. "Show what you know" is the new assessment dictum.

Community and Economic Development Certificate Program at Penn State University is an example of an existing program that does not specifically relate to sustainability. However, with a flexible five-course program, courses themselves can start to incorporate new views and vistas. Technical and career colleges such as TCI offer courses and programs that can be combined with liberal arts programs to help with the nuts and bolts of economic development at the state, community, or neighborhood level.

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