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Monday, May 21, 2012

GIS Certificate: $2,400 and Four Saturdays

If I read this press release and this website correctly, you can get a GIS certificate from Cal Poly Pamona for just $2,400. Students take four classes at $600 each; two are required and two are electives (though only two electives are available, as I write this). Each one is taught on a single Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. The required courses use Getting to Know ArcGIS Desktop and the electives use Getting to Know ArcObjects, Programming ArcGIS with VBA (?) and the Esri Virtual Campus resources.

I appreciate that Cal Poly Pamona is straightforward about what the short program can and can't do.
This certificate program is intended for prospective non-specialist GIS users in a variety of professional settings. The certificate is not intended to prepare full-time GIS specialists, but rather to impart useful and necessary GIS skills to analysts, planners and managers in the wide range of fields that require location or planning decisions, resource management/allocation decisions or spatial optimization of networks, routes or systems.
I'm pleased so many schools are offering GIS courses, certificates and degrees. I think having a variety of face-to-face, online, hybrid and other ways to teach and learn are key to getting the word out to as many potential practitioners as possible. The variety of options means that both students and hiring managers need to do their homework.

Students need to remember that old adage, "if something looks too good to be true..." In short, a program that is short and inexpensive may not deliver the same content, teach the same skills or have the same impact on a hiring manager. That said, I think such offerings can be great introductions and/or stepping stones to further self-study or more formal study of GIS.

The real challenge for those on the hiring side is to be sure distinguish between the kinds of skills acquired and degrees conferred by such programs. A "GIS certificate" may be open to anyone and hus is taught to address those with a variety of backgrounds. The Cal Poly Pamona program falls into this group. A "post baccalaureate certificate" means a bachelor's degree is a pre-requisite and the courses are aimed at individuals with that level of educational experience. Some programs even count such coursework towards a Masters (Penn State and Denver for two).