How to Choose A Project Management Certificate or College Degree Program

In this article we look at project management certificate and degree programs and the quality measures available for them. We also consider which of the two options, if either, may be right for your particular situation. Our aim here is to give you a head start on your search. Finally, we’ll look at a couple of representative examples to give you the flavor of the options. For certificate programs, PMI’s Registered Education Provider (REP) status is important. For degree programs, as we will discuss, PMI’s accreditation program is important.

Those who want to learn project management for the first time and don’t yet qualify to take the PMP® exam may find fertile ground in the available project management certificate programs. A growing number of schools are now offering degrees in project management. Indeed, PMI now accredits degree programs. Many schools offer both certificate and degree options.

While a certificate program might be good preparation for the PMP exam, it might be fair to say that a certificate program will be less helpful to you if you are aiming for the PMP credential. While the ultimate judge is the organization you provide your services to, a certificate adds less value if you also have the credential. Depending on the content of the certificate program, it may be useful in preparing for the exam.

In order to ensure that you receive your desired Professional Development Units (PDUs), be sure that your provider is either a PMI Registered Education Provider, a PMI component (chapter, Community of Practice, etc.), or a university or college.

What is a PMI Registered Education Provider?

Registered Education Providers (REPs) achieve that designation through PMI by meeting the following criteria which provide an extra measure of quality endorsement:

  1. Must be a legal organization and must have been offering project management training for at least one year
  2. Must provide course material and student reviews to PMI for evaluation. The materials submitted must indicate quality in design, content and delivery.
  3. The course content must be consistent with PMI global standards, unless it clearly delineates where departures from original material exist and does so both within the materials and in the marketing literature.
  4. The provider must be technically capable of providing appropriate PDUs to participants.
  5. Both advertising and classroom materials must properly acknowledge PMI’s intellectual property.

REPs are listed in the R.E.P. Directory.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs offering CEUs or PDUs can count toward your contact hours requirement to qualify for the PMP exam.

When evaluating certificate programs, the following checklist is useful. You may wish to add other items that particularly important to you and establish personal weighting factors.

  1. Is the certificate from an accredited institution? If not, is the provider a Registered Education Provider?
  2. What is the estimated total cost of certificate completion?
  3. Does your employer cover any costs, and under what conditions?
  4. What portions of the study are online and what portions are in classroom? If classroom courses are involved, where are the classrooms located?
  5. If the courses are available online, are they synchronous or asynchronous? Synchronous courses allow real-time student interaction between students and faculty, while asynchronous courses do not.
  6. What feedback about the certificate can you find online?
  7. Are claims of graduate employment plausible or independently verified?
  8. Does the certificate program include PMP(r) exam preparation (assuming that you want it)?
  9. Is the certificate oriented toward a particular industry? While the PMP(r) credential is industry agnostic, regional job availability and local government subsidies may shape the nature of the course sequence. A frequent distinction is between information systems/technology (IS/IT) on the one hand, and project management as well as all other certificates, on the other.

Let’s look at a representative certificate program sample among the many, in order to gain a sense of the cost and coverage available. Please know that you should research many such programs in order to find the one most right for you.

Auburn University/Watermark Learning

Watermark Learning is both a Registered Education Provider and a partner of Auburn University to provide Associate and Masters Certificate programs in Project Management.

  • Associate Certificate in PM Program – Watermark’s beginning program in project management offered in conjunction with Auburn University, helps ensure students can execute projects effectively, and manage scope and risks. “Project Management Fundamentals” and “Influencing Without Authority” are the two required courses.
  • Masters Certificate in PM – this program can build on the Associate Certificate, or be taken separately with “Project Management Fundamentals,” “Influencing Without Authority,” and “Planning and Managing Requirements” as required courses. Three electives are required, available from a list of 15 potential courses depending on the needs and interests of students.

Contact Information:
Nancy Larsen
Watermark Learning
[email protected]

Villanova Certificate Programs

As a Registered Education Provider, Villanova offers both a Master Certificate and an Advanced Master Certificate, with both being offered in both IS/IT and the more general “applied” project management areas. This distinction recognizes the differences between implementation of projects in the two areas even though the underlying PMBOK® Guide information is the same.

The Applied Master Certificate program costs $6,295 for a four-course program which includes PMP exam preparation. There is one required class, and you must take three electives.

Included in the required classes is an “essentials” course, PMP Exam Prep course and one titled “Mastering Project Management – Healthcare,” clearly a more specialized but still generally beneficial course.

The Advanced Master Certificate requires either a PMP or CAPM® credential or Villanova’s Master Certificate as a prerequisite. It has two required courses and one elective. The required courses are “Advanced Strategic Project Management” and “Maximizing Team Effectiveness.” Electives include “Strategic Organizational Leadership,” “Finance & Accounting for the Non-Financial Manager,” “Essentials of Commercial Contract Management,” “Essentials of Government Contract Management,” “Six Sigma Green Belt,” “Lean Six Sigma,” “Six Sigma Green Belt-Healthcare” and “Six Sigma Green Belt-Financial Services.”

More details are here.

California State University Dominguez Hills Certificate Program

California State University Dominguez Hills is a PMI Registered Education Provider offering a Certificate of Completion in Project Management. The coursework is modeled after PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge and leaves students better prepared to take the PMP exam. Preparing students for the PMP exam is only one purpose of this program – it also serves to educate professionals interested in the increasingly-popular field of project management.

The Certificate of Completion in Project Management costs $1,300 and is awarded to students once they have finished five required courses: Introduction & Overview of Project Management, Project Human Resource and Procurement Management, Project Quality and Communications Management, Project Risk and Scope Management, and Project Time and Cost Management. Students must first complete Introduction & Overview of Project Management, but the remaining courses can be completed in any order.

Visit the program’s website for more information, or contact Babette Wald at [email protected].

The American University in Cairo

There are many certificate programs available to international students interested in project management, including the Project Management Professional Program at the American University in Cairo. They are a registered provider and affiliate of PMI, and offer the program online for students unable to attend in person. Please contact them if you have any questions about the program.

Degree Programs

Degree options present a particularly large and extended time investment. The number of degree options has increased dramatically in the past few years. With the addition in recent years of project management doctoral programs, the full spectrum of degree levels from bachelor’s to masters to doctoral is available.

Project management degree programs can now be found on six continents. At this writing (late 2013), there are two in Asia and one in Africa.

When evaluating degree programs, the following checklist, similar to that for certificate programs, is useful. You may wish to add other items that particularly important to you and, as before, determine your own weighting factors.

  1. Is the degree from an accredited institution?
  2. Is the degree from an institution also accredited by PMI?
  3. Does the program you are considering carry you to the level (bachelor’s, masters or doctorate) that you aspire to? Remember, you can later attend a different institution for follow-on degrees.
  4. Is any financial aid available? If so, do you need it? Would you qualify? Is there special support for veterans?
  5. Does your employer cover any costs? Under what conditions?
  6. What is the estimated total cost of degree completion?
  7. What portions of the study are online and which are in classroom? If classroom courses are involved, where are the classrooms located?
  8. If the courses are available online, are they synchronous or asynchronous? Synchronous courses allow real-time student interaction between students and faculty while asynchronous courses do not.
  9. What feedback about the degree program can you find online?
  10. Are claims of graduate employment plausible or independently verified?
  11. Is the program oriented toward a particular industry? While the PMP credential is industry agnostic, regional job availability and local government subsidies may shape the nature of the program.
  12. How long has the program been in existence?

How PMI Accredits Degree Programs

As with certificates, any organization or individual can advertise educational products, and it’s often difficult for consumers to determine the best possible investment of their time, effort and funds. Even when the providing organization is a highly respected and even accredited institution, you still need to know the quality of highly specialized educational programs, particularly when they are new.

PMI’s Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) addresses this critical need. Very importantly, GAC is an “accredited accreditor,” belonging to the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA). This means that the criteria used by the GAC, and the methods used, are in accordance with best accreditation practices and ethics.

Recent Changes Regarding Work Experience and Degree Programs

A critical component of the project management credentialing process is the documentation of real-life experience on the part of the candidate. Formerly, PMI allowed credit for experience in the amount of 1,500 hours to applicants enrolled in GAC-accredited programs. This credit has been removed, emphasizing again the importance of practical experience. Students graduating from a GAC-accredited program by June 30, 2014 may claim the 1,500 work hours, so long as they apply for their credential exam no later than June 30, 2017.

University of Wisconsin – Platteville – Graduate Level

The Platteville campus offers a Master of Science in Project Management, which is a valid choice for those with undergraduate degrees in other curricula. The criteria for admission include a degree from an accredited school with an adequate grade-point average, and, if English is not your native language, a copy of your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL® Test) scoring report with appropriate score.

Graduation requires 30-36 graduate credits within seven years with three basic categories: Business Foundations (0-9 credits including managerial accounting, organizational behavior and business communication), Project Management Core Courses (15 credits including project management, quality or scope, communication or virtual and co-located teams culminated by a capstone course) and 12-15 hours of Elective Courses (more than two dozen are available on a very broad range of subjects).

DeVry University – Undergraduate Level

DeVry University offers both undergraduate and graduate level degrees in project management. The undergraduate degree is a business degree with specialization in project management. Business degree options include Business Administration, Management and Technical Management. The Technical Management and Business Administration degrees are accredited by the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC). DeVry publishes total enrollment and graduation rates on their website.

The Technical Management degree requires eight full time semesters or approximately 124 hours to complete. Included are:

  • 40 credit hours of general education coursework. Included are communications skills, humanities, math, natural sciences, personal and professional development, and social sciences.
  • 53 core-degree credit hours. Included are
    • Data Analysis and Spreadsheets with Lab
    • Introduction to Business and Technology
    • Computer Applications for Business with Lab
    • Principles of Management
    • Project Management
    • An elective in business policy, law, global business issues, business systems analysis or human resource management
  • 31 hours of career-focused coursework, including topics such as project planning, project execution, status reporting, project task setting, project team selection, budget management, project analysis, project communication, Total Quality Management and contracts and procurement.

DeVry says its graduates, like those from similar degree programs, may be well qualified for jobs as Organizational Change Manager, Procurement Manager, Project Developer, Project Manager, Project Quality Manager or Project Team Leader.

With the other PMI accredited option, the bachelor’s in business administration, the career-focused courses include Advanced Cost Management, Total Quality Management, Business Systems Analysis, Contracts and Procurement, and Human Resources and Communication in Projects, among others.

Your Next Step?

Although a relatively recent concept, as you can see, the degree options and some of the certificate options involve decisions about your area of specialization or industry. This is in contrast to the vast majority of exam prep courses, which are usually generic in content.

We have given you an idea of the options and considerations involved. No endorsement of the schools mentioned is intended or should be inferred. There are a huge range and numerous options available to you for both certificates and degrees. Your dedication to research on the front end can pay huge dividends in the long term and is indispensable.