CXO

What's better: Four-year degrees or certifications?

A TechRepublic member from the world of academia asks about the best education track for college-age students interested in IT. The forum replies show it's not really an either/or question.


TechRepublic member Academician wanted to know what kind of education was more valuable for young people interested in IT: an undergraduate degree or a selection of certifications. Academician wanted some other opinions because of the concern about “the ivy-colored lenses through which I sometimes look.”

The question in the TechRepublic Forums was:

“Should 18- to 24-year olds interested in IT careers continue to look to a 4-year college degree as the basis for their education, or are do-it-yourself certifications (e.g., MCSE, CNA) all that they need? Is the university approach obsolete for IT training? Are certifications too focused to provide the rounded training that individuals need?”

This question was worth 300 TechPoints and Academician split the winnings between two answers, one from Ivachon and one from Pallan.

Different programs, different results
Ivachon said that the two tracks provide training in two separate areas.

“Certifications will provide you with the information you need to run the operating system/network. An undergrad degree, however, focuses on broader skills as well as the technologies.

“A certification cannot teach you methods to become a better researcher or a better communicator. Schools concentrate on areas beyond IT and help deepen your understanding of material (as well as breadth). Certs add specialized knowledge to your base, but they don't replace the skills developed in an undergraduate program. Undergraduate work plus certifications gives you rounded training, which certs by themselves do not.”

Pallan also recommended the college or university route.

“You'll also have the potential to go farther up the career ladder than a ‘Burger King’ MCSE. Certs claim to offer real-world knowledge (and do to some extent), but the real world wants someone who can present themselves and their knowledge to others verbally or through writing.”

Undergrad degree has other benefits
Two other members said that a bachelor’s degree will get you in the front door of a business, even if you need some certs to open other doors.

Sondo007 used to be a high school teacher and now is working in PC support.

“Honestly that B.A. is your union card into almost any position from technical to management. Plus, a four-year degree shows an employer you can do more than just understand computer systems. Every student I ever taught I suggested the four-year degree, if possible.”

TechRepublic member Mike S. had a short and succinct reply:

“Get the degree. Certs will come and go, but you get to keep the degree.”
How valuable is your college degree? Do you even have one? What’s the ROI on certifications versus a bachelor’s or master’s degree? Drop us an e-mail, and tell us what you think about IT and other kinds of education.

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