Certificate clarification by the administration

An undergraduate or graduate degree from Colorado State University has strong value as our students graduate and head out to start their careers. One of the ways some of our colleges work to build on that value is to recognize “certificates of completion” (CoC) which can help our alums show potential employers that they’ve focused on specific skills and topics.

The intention is to collect a suite of courses that have a coherent theme and make students aware that our faculty believe in and recognize the additional value of taking the entire suite, over and above taking each course. These CoC’s don’t show up on transcripts, but they reflect real completed coursework and achievement by our graduates.


The word “certificate” has recently come into question. It can have specific federal and state meanings, and regional accrediting organizations — ours is the Higher Learning commission (HLC) — also provide guidance to institutions on its use. Is a “CoC” earned at CSU the same as the formal definition of “certificate” in federal and state policy or the certificates offered at trade schools and community colleges? No — CSU’s certificates of course completion were never intended to mimic those definitions.

They are simply intended to help our students select interconnected groups of courses and help our graduates show what they’ve accomplished and what value they offer as employees in the workplace.

Look on a CSU transcript and you won’t see the word “certificate.” CoCs here aren’t transcripted recognitions for undergraduates or graduates: it is the completed courses that are on the transcript.

There is an ongoing discussion at the University, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE), and the HLC about whether, and to what extent, CSU should consider making such CoCs formal and transcriptable, and if so what to call them. We are moving forward first at the graduate level, and we are working with the University Curriculum Committee to establish guidelines and approval processes for such graduate CoCs.

CSU is also working with the CDHE and the HLC to consider possible alternative terms or phrases — rather than “certificate” — that we could be authorized to use and transcript at the undergraduate level (e.g. “emphasis area,” “focus course suite,” etc.) The ability to identify areas of emphasis is important for our students; but our primary goals are clarity of the terms we use for academic credentials, compliance with accrediting standards and meeting state and federal statutes.

Graduate and undergraduate students at CSU have earned the credits for completed coursework and degrees regardless of whether some of the courses taken as part of their program of study are grouped under the umbrella of the more casual use of the phrase certificate of completion. This discussion does not change what appears on their transcript or what a student has accomplished. What’s most important is that we are as clear as possible when describing what a student learned in their time at CSU.

Rick Miranda
Provost and Executive Vice President
Colorado State University