This article is part of a series of FAQs with Thunderbird Executive Education about the value of continued executive development and lifelong learning.

“What’s the value in taking non-credit continuing education courses instead of for-credit courses in a degree program?”

Much of the value in choosing continuing education credits (referred to as continuing education units or CEUs) over a degree program is the savings of time and expense compared with for-credit courses in graduate programs. CEUs are a method of quantifying participation in an accredited continuing education experience (with one CEU equalling 10 contact hours of time). CEUs provide a permanent record for professionals who successfully complete these experiences.

Other considerations can also help make the decision. Read on:

Reason #1: You need a timely, cost-effective boost to your skills

Online, non-degree courses are built for professional development, not degrees. So while these courses won’t transfer into a graduate program, they deliver an abundance of information – all derived from graduate course content – in a short amount of time.

Schools such as Thunderbird go through a process that allows them to issue CEUs, which are widely recognized by HR departments as a way to quantify the time their employees spend in professional development. For example, participants are awarded 1.5 CEUs upon successful completion of each Thunderbird online eight-week certificate course. An Executive Certificate, which is made up of three eight-week courses, gives participants 4.5 CEUs upon successful completion.

“What’s the value of non-credit executive education programs? You save time and money.” – Click to tweet

CEUs are recognized not only by organizations, but also by professional entities that look for industry-specific certifications. When it’s time to get recertified, these groups are interested in seeing what you have done to keep yourself current in that industry.

Depending on an individual’s goals, he or she may need to pursue a graduate degree. But many professionals already have the necessary credentials and simply need to build or update their skills and knowledge. If you’re an engineer seeking to understand the nuances of business, for example, you don’t need to go back to school for an MBA. You can build a business acumen toolkit with an executive development program that’s practical, focused, and drawn from the expertise of faculty members and graduate-level content.

And that provides perhaps the biggest contrast between the credit and non-credit experience: the latter is an affordable, timely course you can complete and put into practice the next day.

Reason #2: You need a program customized to your career goals

The choice between non-credit and credit programs depends heavily on your goals. In general, the non-credit route is an ideal fit in these two circumstances:

  • You are a professional making a career change. The program or course won’t guarantee you a new job, but you are learning all about the industry and showing that you want to be relevant. This can help as you move into another career.
  • You are a professional with many years of experience in an industry and you need to refresh your perspective. You may not have the time nor the interest in going back to school for another degree, but you do need to understand today’s best practices. Plus, you can complete a non-credit program in days/weeks/months rather than in years.

“What’s the value of non-credit executive education programs? An experience customized to your goals.” – Click to tweet

While Thunderbird excels at providing robust multi-course programs, we recognize that sometimes an individual only needs one course. For example, if all you need in the short term is to learn about logistics in the supply chain, you can take Thunderbird’s eight-week course and learn all about it. After you go back and test that knowledge at work, you can always return to Thunderbird later if more courses are needed.

And finally, if your goals are more driven by timing and schedules, our approach can make all the difference. Another degree program would take two years, but what if you had a more immediate opportunity for a promotion? Instead of kissing that chance goodbye for two years, you could quickly take a course or two and get the basic knowledge you need to compete for the promotion.

Reason #3: You need your company to say ‘yes’

We are often asked, “Are companies more or less likely to pay for a non-credit program?”

The answer is that the majority of companies have no problem paying for non-credit professional development. Many have a learning and development (L&D) budget either for customized programming (e.g., “We want to put this specific group of employees through the program”) or for enrolling individuals. Some companies set aside specific amounts both for degree as well as non-credit programs.

Most large companies provide an average of $5,250 per year for individuals to pursue L&D, with varying guidelines and restrictions. There’s often a structure, for example, that determines who is eligible to use the funding based on longevity at the company, position, etc. But restrictions do not usually hinge on the credit vs. non-credit question.

“What’s the value of non-credit executive education programs? Your employer’s support, respect.” – Click to tweet

We’re also happy to restate the obvious: Your choice of a top-notch L&D provider like Thunderbird can help seal the deal with your employer. It may be a non-credit program, but it’s from a highly ranked, well-respected school with courses taught by renowned professors and experts. We’re confident Thunderbird will sound like a better investment than someplace your employer has never heard of (and is less inclined to pay for!).

Ultimately, in a non-credit continuing education program, you’re getting much of the same content a graduate student would get – minus the larger price tag and long-term academic obligations.