Managing your certification program can feel like a full-time job. From coordinating with instructors to processing admissions and managing membership credentials to tackling technical issues, you have a seemingly endless list of responsibilities on your desk. How do you efficiently oversee an entire program with so many moving parts?
If you’re struggling in this area and looking for help, this post will provide the proverbial lifeline. We’ve collected the most important tips to keep in mind when running a professional certification program, especially once that’s recognized industry-wide. Use these tips to either get a handle on your program or fine-tune what’s already working well. These tips will also ensure that you’re providing excellent care to your members. Let’s get started.
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1. Select a Program Manager
The first step in managing your certification program is to select a dedicated manager for the job.
You have two options: Hire from within, or look outside of your current team to find someone with experience in certification program management. Hiring from within has the benefit of working with a person whom you already know. This person also knows your program and won’t need to be introduced to the basics.
On the other other hand, hiring someone who has experience with managing a certification program also has its own perks. He or she will have experiential knowledge of what works, what doesn’t work, and what pitfalls to avoid when supervising a certification program. They are very likely to have fresh (and proven) ideas that can improve your certification program.
Whatever option you choose, remember that it’s important to have a dedicated manager for your program. This person shouldn’t be distracted by other, non-program related tasks. This is especially true if you offer an industry-rated accreditation. Developing a solid team to execute your certification program is the best way to guarantee a positive reputation for your program.
Give your manager the autonomy to curate a team to operate your certification program. At the very least, you’ll need a student success manager and a tech support contact. Depending on the size of your membership, you may find it necessary to add a webmaster to maintain your site, an educational coordinator, and an accountant.
2. Focus on Completely Onboarding New Students
Once students enroll in your certification program, what happens next?
While it’s important to create a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for your program, it is even more imperative to implement a thorough onboarding process. It’s not enough to offer an amazing educational opportunity if your students aren’t able to access it. The same can be said about your resource library or support forums, etc.
The mark of a successfully managed program is when students feel prepared and ready to engage with the certification course. Effective and comprehensive onboarding is a reflection of your management.
Comprehensive onboarding not only improves your student’s experience with your certification program, it also reduces redundancy and frees up your team to focus on other tasks. This is because your entire onboarding process can be completely automated.
What do we mean by comprehensive onboarding? While there’s no “one size fits all” answer here, here are the most common onboarding procedures to implement within your program:
Send a welcome email – In this email, include a “Welcome Aboard” packet that provides the details of the course, start date, end date, a list of resources, and your contact details.
Ask for additional details in a separate email – When signing up for the course, you may not ask your new students for all of their details right away. Too much too soon can be very overwhelming. Once they’ve enrolled, now you can send an email that asks for their details. You’ll also want to ask this most important question: What is your goal for taking this course? Any answers that you get from this section will be useful for data analysis, segmentation, future marketing, course tweaking, and overall program management.
Send a getting started email – This email should be sent when your course begins. In this email, offer a step by step guide to starting the certification program. For example, if hosting your course online, provide a link to the course’s home page, along with any password details or other pertinent information the new student needs to know to have a seamless experience with your program.
3. Keep Students Engaged in Your Program
While onboarding is important for new students, a huge part of managing your program is to keep all of your students engaged with your course. While some students may start off strong, it’s very common to lose momentum after signing up for a program.
As program manager, you’re responsible for keeping students involved. As we mentioned above, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to appoint a student success manager (SSM) for the job. An SSM will support students who are enrolled in your certification program and create a plan for student retention. This person will play an integral role in your management team because his or her efforts will directly impact your program’s longevity.
If you’re unable to retain students long enough for them to actually graduate from your program, your program won’t last. For this reason, retention management must be a top consideration for your certification program.
4. Offer the Right Certificates
Are you still issuing paper certificates?
Paper certificates are an inefficient use of your time and resources, and can make it harder to manage your certification program. How?
Paper certificates cost more to produce than digital certificates or badges. Ink, paper, and labor costs add up and, depending on the quality, the costs can significantly take away from your profit.
Time is also a factor. When compared to the instant delivery of digital certificates, it requires significantly more time to issue paper certificates. It may take weeks to deliver digital certificates to your members via mail. Then what happens if there is a spelling error or a name is wrong?
As a manager, you’re tasked with lowering administration costs and reducing student wait time all while increasing value to both students and your organization. Fortunately, you can accomplish this Herculean feat through digitizing your certificates. Learn more about issuing digital certificates can improve your organization here.
5. Focus on Billing
Billing is a huge part of program management. Your billing should be as frictionless as possible, and not elicit a negative response from your enrolled students.
To make billing easier for students, many associations offer payment plans for their courses. This is especially true for courses that may require a substantial financial investment. When compared to a relatively large lump sum payment, dividing the cost can make the course more accessible to students.
The fine print, however, is that payment plans often put a heavy burden on the management team. It can make billing a nightmare.
To avoid the common pitfalls of payment plan billing, implement the following:
- An automated system for accepting payment and reminding students when next payment is due
- Instant notification when a payment fails or a credit card is nearing expiration
- A secure and automatic way to accept payments, i.e. a portal via your association’s website
- The ability to accept multiple types of payments, i.e. credit card, PayPal, etc.
- A payment system with built-in ability to detect errors and notify your students immediately for swift correct
- The ability to maintain continuous member enrollment after completing a course
6. Measure Results and Apply Feedback
To effectively manage your certification program, you’ll need to keep an eye on what’s working (so that you may do more of it) and what’s not working (so that you can remedy the problem).
Actively solicit feedback from current and former students. For example, through feedback you may find that a course module isn’t providing enough value to your students. You can use this feedback to adjust your program to match the stated needs and goals of your students.
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