Interview with Frederick T. Wehrle, D.MSc - Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at UC Berkeley Extension
About Frederick T. Wehrle, D.MSc: Frederick T. Wehrle is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at UC Berkeley Extension, where he leads the strategic design and development of the institution’s academic organizational structure. He also lectures in Marketing Strategy, Product Management, and Go-To-Market Strategies. Dr. Wehrle’s research interests are in the influence of pre-existing biases on consumer behavior. He earned his Master of Science in Biology at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and his Doctorate in Management Sciences at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, France.
Dr. Wehrle has dedicated his career to designing new forms of education that fit the work and family reality of professionals and allow them to acquire the skills needed to succeed in their careers in the upcoming 4th industrial revolution. In his words, “A big part of this endeavor in a world-leading public university is to disrupt the traditional 5-year program review cycle and adopt an agile academic design approach that assesses and updates programs and courses almost in real-time.” To achieve this goal, he led a systematic restructuring of the academic organization and created the world’s first Academic Design and Innovation Incubator, allowing academics across all disciplines to efficiently analyze, design, and prototype new courses, programs and entirely new forms of education.
In his prior positions, Dr. Wehrle created the Center for Global Engagement of Planeta Education and Universities France while directing Accreditation and International Relations. This Center federated all international activities of six partner institutions in an innovative way that maximized use of resources and impact. It led all international partner relations, managed student and faculty mobility (research and teaching) as well as language learning. Previously, he had served as Director of Accreditation and International Relations, as well as Academic Director at IGS Group. At ICD International Business School, he founded the School’s Eye-Tracking Lab. Dr. Wehrle is a passionate educator who has not only lectured at UC Berkeley, but also at Grupo Planeta, EDC Group, IGS Group, University of Paris 1, Toulouse Business School, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and IAM Group.
[GraduateCertificates.com] UC Berkeley Extension offers a wealth of certificate programs in areas ranging from business management to clinical research. May we have an overview of the history and mission of UC Berkeley Extension, and how the program offerings have expanded in recent years to help equip students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in the current marketplace? How does UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate programs fit into UC Berkeley’s overall academic offerings and institutional mission?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] UC Berkeley Extension’s mission is at the heart of the mission of the entire University of California system: “To serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge.” It was created as an idealistic initiative of a few faculty in 1891, who wanted to extend the privilege of a high-quality liberal arts education to non-matriculated adult learners and fight the growing inequities in society due to the mass automation of the second Industrial Revolution. In the process, the founders pioneered the uniquely American concept of lifelong learning through continuing education. In fact, the name of ‘lifelong learning’ was coined by one of Extension’s first deans, Leon J. Richardson.
The core idea behind Extension, which is to give access to UC Berkeley’s excellent educational offerings to people of all ages, has required the department to function differently than traditional research departments, while maintaining close collaboration with them. Adult learners have indeed many more limitations in their ability to attend and succeed in higher education programs. Because of its students’ work and family engagements, Extension has always set itself the objective to meet learners where they were and experimented with different education formats since its creation: single courses delivered at different times of the day as part-time offerings, or in intensive, full-time short formats, correspondence instruction, instruction through film or on commuter trains, online instruction, and instruction abroad.
In addition to the flexibility and speed-to-completion of an Extension program, the department has a long-standing tradition of innovative academic design and pedagogy, specifically adapted to professional learners. For example, to keep adult learners engaged, each course session aims at providing operational knowledge as well as the opportunity to understand and practice its application in a professional context. In many ways, UC Berkeley Extension breaches the gap of academia and the professional world, and represents today one of the most advanced and successful continuing education departments in history.
The recent pandemic has allowed Extension to accelerate its efforts to become more nationally and globally accessible by providing not only asynchronous online courses, but also highly engaging live-online instruction, effectively taking the classroom experience into the metaverse. It turned out that for many courses, adult learners in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as across the U.S. and the globe, appreciate online instruction with live sessions for the convenience, allowing them to avoid commuting to class-rooms after work or having to delocalize to the Berkeley area to take courses. Depending on the subject area, however, certain courses have returned into the physical classroom in fall 2021 and will continue to welcome students in person.
Inspired by the transformative impact that intensive education formats such as bootcamps can have, we have applied neuroscientific learning methodologies to a new generation of extremely short programs, from a few days to a couple of weeks. We have been testing this new format in different iterations since 2018 and used it to create extremely successful custom programs for partner institutions and corporations. We have also started a complete restructuring of our traditional certificate programs to make them stackable and thus more flexible and accessible. Part of this restructuring allows us to offer certificate programs as part-time classes for working professionals, or as shorter full-time sequences that learners take as a cohort with a defined start and end date. Finally, we are also exploring further the creation of shorter credentials, such as single-course certificates for specialization courses that professionals take to stay current in their job field or to deepen their expertise.
The disciplines offered by Extension have not dramatically changed over the last century, as they reflect the broad categories of professional learners: Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Business, Management, Arts, Design, and Letters. In the last 30 years, disciplines in Computer Sciences successively joined our portfolio, along with Analytics and Data Science, as well as more recently Machine Learning and AI Engineering. Our latest endeavors are interdisciplinary programs that provide leaders in corporations and organizations with a broad spectrum of competencies to navigate the challenges of Digital Transformation.
[GraduateCertificates.com] UC Berkeley Extension offers both in-person and online certificate programs. May we have more information on the instruction methods that UC Berkeley Extension uses to accommodate working professionals, and how students interact with course instructors and peers both in the campus-based and online environments?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] Extension has probably one of the oldest traditions in remote instruction, dating back to the pioneering correspondence courses offered from 1912 onward. With the rising popularity of the internet, Extension ventured into online learning after receiving a Sloan Grant in 1994 to build an interactive, fully online continuing education curriculum easily accessible nationwide. The division also launched one of the first fully online master’s programs with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health in 2012. Shortly after, Extension started creating meaningful and highly flexible online courses, which learners could follow on their own time, while interacting with a Berkeley instructor.
With the onset of the pandemic, we have put tremendous effort and resources into creating highly engaging live-online courses to replace the traditional classroom experience. Given the ever-increasing demand for performance in the work environment, the overcrowded urban environment, and the needs of the family, we found that working professionals embraced online learning with live classes through video conference software. A few simple but critical developments are:
- Online classroom code of conduct, which requires learners to work from a quiet environment, without eating and camera on. This simple change creates a highly engaging video conference, where all learners can see each other and the course does not have to cycle through the instructor at the front of a classroom.
- Intensive training of all our instructors in video conferencing software, as well as in video recording and enriching the learning platform. This change helped improve blended learning, with parts of the lecture being pre-recorded and shared with learners up-front, effectively leaving the class session for more in-depth analysis and discussions.
- More detailed class session planning, including more dynamic interactions, exercises and discussions, notably with the use of breakout rooms and polls. These methods have led to more impactful peer-to-peer learning between students and more exchange of experiences that help create meaningful connections with classmates.
- Rethinking of competence assessment, beyond the traditional written exam. In subject areas that allowed for it, exams have for example been broken out into real-time assessments each class session. Other innovative assessment methods such as video tutorials, podcasts, interviews, and simulations have gained in popularity.
Going forward, Extension will continue offering its live-online courses mostly in the evening; however, since an increasing number of learners are international, this means effectively offering courses throughout the day and evening in our time zone. Classroom courses will be programmed only when needed on our campuses in Berkeley and San Francisco–for example, for visiting full-time students during the day, or for local learners who prepare for medical school or who need specific classroom equipment, such as laboratories and art studios.
To best respond to student needs, instructors and academic teams are available remotely via video conferencing, phone, or email, while advisors are available in person on our campuses.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What online and campus-based support structures and additional career development support/mentorship opportunities are available to students of UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate programs?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] Extension offers Career Services and Programs to support learners in their career advancement. Because of the specific needs of working professionals, our services are naturally distinct from the career services offered to undergraduate and graduate students. Through free Career Counseling, we support professionals who are not even sure whether studying is the right path for them to stay employed or to find a new job or career. Free Career Counseling during their studies, paired with academic advising, allows learners to define clear professional and academic goals and to find their way through the courses of a program so as to maximize their chances of success despite their busy professional lives.
To close soft skill gaps and prepare for the specific challenges of recruitment adults face, our Career Development workshops offer a large array of focused training. In addition, our learners can network during company visits and frequent online and in-person events, featuring leading experts across all disciplines throughout the year.
For learners who are switching careers, professional experience is hard to gain, but often required to secure a job in a new field of work. To allow our learners who completed a certificate to get a meaningful experience in a company and to get a foot in the door, we offer a structured Professional Internship Program, which features a 3-month preparation and training program and a 3-4 month internship with soft skills training and mentoring.
[GraduateCertificates.com] For students who are deliberating between earning a master’s degree and earning a certificate, what factors should they take into consideration? Are students of UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate programs able to transfer their coursework to a master’s program at UC Berkeley or elsewhere, should they desire to do so?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] A former student put it this way: “At Extension, you don’t learn to know, you learn to understand.” This quote exemplifies the core value of certificate programs for learners, compared to master’s programs. Indeed, UC Berkeley Extension offers primarily certificate programs designed for professionals of all ages who have completed a bachelor’s degree and who want to acquire operational competences to either apply for grad school or to advance or change their career.
Consequently, courses and programs are designed to combine theory with practice, and are taught by leading industry professionals as well as academics. Their curriculum and class structure provide professional learning experiences that empower learners to excel while handling their work and family life. For example, many courses are project based where each class session engages learners in meaningful discussions on the application of the theory and provides operational knowledge to take back into the job.
In contrast, master’s programs at research universities such as UC Berkeley are mostly designed for students who wish to pursue a career in research or job categories that require deep understanding of research and scientific methods. They are attractive for recent graduates and young professionals who can take up to two years to complete their studies. They also often feature a more traditional university-like education, marked by a focus on theory and concepts with more generic perspectives on application.
If a learner is looking to start a new career, change careers, or develop an advanced expertise in their job, they will want to consider certificates delivered by renowned institutions. If a learner is looking to enter a specific profession that requires a master’s degree, then they should focus on getting admitted to a well-recognized master’s program.
However, despite these differences, there are a growing number of graduate schools offering more applied curricula, which accept academic credits from UC Berkeley Extension, and other continuing education institutions, towards degrees. As a consequence, we are developing several Cert-Degree programs with U.S. and international universities and graduate schools that serve as pathways for students to complete a certification and degree at the same time.
[GraduateCertificates.com] For students who are interested in UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate programs, what are the admissions expectations and how can they put forth a competitive application?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] UC Berkeley Extension programs and courses are mostly open enrollment with subject matter-specific prerequisites. The majority of offerings are targeted at learners who have completed a bachelor’s degree, but there are specialized offerings for learners who do not hold a degree.
In addition, we offer a set of cohort programs, which require an application. In these programs, students take a set sequence of courses over the course of a semester or a year. They offer an integrated learning experience with a unique pedagogy including transversal projects and simulations, career development and professional networking options.
To write a compelling application, it is important to understand the mission and values of Berkeley and to assess whether they are a fit for you as a learner. Berkeley is a place built by change makers, for change makers. If you feel that things in your environment are not how they should be and you want to be a positive change agent for yourself, your family, and your community, completing a program with UC Berkeley Extension can give you the knowledge and competencies needed to take action.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What, in your opinion, are the distinctions between certificate programs offered at academic institutions such as UC Berkeley, and the trainings and certificates that are offered by industry entities such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, etc.?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] In the United States, we are seeing a growing number of students going into master’s degrees right after their bachelor’s degree, because the baccalaureate degree is not getting them where they want to get in terms of jobs. America has an advantage in that we are a bit late in that development whereas in Europe and Asia there is already a huge inflation of master’s programs. People have automatically and for decades been going into master’s programs right after the bachelor’s because higher level positions were really difficult to get with just a bachelor’s.
In countries such as France, Spain, and Germany, it is not uncommon for people to have several master’s degrees–a generic one that is more of an extension of their undergraduate studies, and then a more specialized one that focuses on their desired career, and perhaps an even more specialized one on top of that as they hone their professional focus and ambitions further. While additional education in one’s field is advantageous, completing a sequence of master’s degrees is extremely time-consuming, and inefficient.
This is due in part to the fact that the master’s degree typically trains students in the advanced theory and analytical thinking that are key in a general sense for strategic decision-making, but this “how to think” training is at the same time less operational because it is less targeted, and less directly practical. Therefore, students complete multiple master’s programs in order to amass the skillset needed for their desired role. This is why the graduate certificate market is growing so quickly, in my opinion. Universities saw an opportunity for a more efficient way for students to gain advanced, operational knowledge to make them attractive to employers.
Let us take Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area as an example, where project-centric organizational structures make it easy for people to hop from job to job, creating huge turnover within an organization. There is a real premium to being able to retain people, or to hire people who are immediately operational. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that large corporations have created certificate programs of their own, open to anyone for a fee–these certificate programs are essentially frontloading the training these corporations used to do for 12 months internally (while paying their employees-in-training a salary), only to have these employees leave after a year once they’re done with training.
Google is a very good example. Traditionally they have taken people on and trained them up, and you see a lot of these trained individuals leaving after less than five years at the company. So they developed Google Certificates. Hiring someone who completed one or more Google Certificates not on company time means that Google saves/gains several months in terms of employee training.
This is a very interesting application of the certificate model that institutions of higher education need to take into account as they adapt, because within higher education institutions, graduate education is generally focused on training students to obtain a level of higher analytical thinking and research competency, whereas certificates from corporations and more applied institutions are built with industry and job insertion in mind first–their objective is really to get you job ready. At UC Berkeley Extension, it has been our goal to combine the strengths of the academic institution with the practical, adaptive nature of industry-specific training. This combination of academic, higher-level analytical thinking and timely, tactical training is more powerful than either in isolation.
Many industry-specific trainings have a model where students learn just enough to get them the job, but they will not be able to go much further, and they will have to come back every time they want to evolve. It is a form of training on-demand, as-needed, which is valuable and has its advantages in terms of flexibility and affordability and time-to-completion, but it also is not conducive to students learning how to teach themselves and evolve for themselves in the workplace.
In contrast, the model for higher education institutions is different in that in our certificates, as with our master’s degrees, we are trying to train students to think, analyze, decide, make choices, and do the research necessary to stay on top of what is happening in their field. In such a scenario, our students are far less likely to come back for more schooling because, ideally, they will have learned how to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field and continue in their own training on-the-job, learning as they go. The easiest way to understand the differentiation between an industry certificate and a certificate from an institution like UC Berkeley is that one prepares you for a job, the other prepares you for a career.
[GraduateCertificates.com] In your opinion, where do you see certificate programs in the overall post-baccalaureate education landscape, and how do you see certificate programs as a graduate education option evolving as industry needs evolve? On a related note, how do you see UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate offerings continuing to evolve in this landscape?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] The certificate market is highly competitive, which on one level is advantageous for students because there is a strong need for certificate programs to be pertinent and to offer the latest in tools, skills, and information so that they reflect the realities of the job market as closely as possible. However, with this competition there has also been an increase in new, for-profit education providers, offering shorter, quick-fix certificate programs. These organizations often appear to focus more on marketing and growing their programs than quality of instruction.
The increase in demand for these kinds of programs has also driven up prices. As an example, you may find a 30-hour UX design certificate program offered for around $4,000 at one of these for-profit providers, taught by instructors with no industry experience. In contrast, UC Berkeley Extension’s 30-hour Essentials of User Experience (UX) Design course is taught by instructors who are working in industry, at big name companies such as Apple and Google, yet it is offered for a little over $1000.
I do not say this to denigrate these for-profit providers–they are serving many students well; rather, I’m explaining what the landscape looks like, how competition and demand drive pedagogical structure and marketing tactics, and the different levels of visibility for different organizations; this information can help students understand the differences between, say, a random certificate program of only a few weeks and a 6-24 month program offered through a non-profit institution of higher education such as UC Berkeley.
The certificate market is not regulated at all, though hopefully that may change in the coming years. There are no clear standards as there are with master’s and bachelor’s programs. So chances are that corporations and employers who will either hire you or give you a raise are not sure of the credential you have if you list a certificate on your resume. This lack of regulation makes it hard for employers to know the difference between a LinkedIn Learning Certificate, where you spend a few hours taking online modules, and investing one to two years and sixteen academic credits in a UC Berkeley Extension certificate, because both are titled certificate. That is a real challenge to consider, when you want to explore the certificate market.
My recommendation is to really look at what you want to achieve, because the main objective when you study for a certificate is not really the credential. You are really studying for the knowledge and competences you can get out of the program. That is actually why a large number of our students take the certificate courses gradually, course by course, as their schedule permits, because they do not necessarily want the credential right away. They want the knowledge that comes from the classes. That is the key for success. And people should not be misled into thinking that if they just take the quickest certificate and have that as a credential that that will make the big difference with an employer.
In short, I would encourage students to thoroughly research their options, and to understand that the programs they first see in an initial search on Google or in their first perusal of what is most prominently marketed out there are not the only options, nor necessarily the best options for their needs. There is a misconception that a short certificate or even bootcamp is enough to become a full-fledged engineer, or UX designer, or other professional expert, when it is really only enough to provide an introduction to the field. Those kinds of short and quick-fix programs give students a foot in the door, but to maintain competence and relevance in one’s field takes much more than that.
In contrast, 8-16 academic credits, something that would take about a year or two to complete when studying part time, is much more likely to get you to a level–both in terms of critical thinking and in terms of immediately operational knowledge–where you can function well, and adapt well.
It comes down to the whole philosophical question, “What is the purpose of a four-year bachelor’s degree? What’s the purpose of a one or two-year master’s degree or a six-year PhD and so on?” The answer is the degree is meant to take students deeper into their field of study and to make them more autonomous in their ability to shape their own careers. Similarly, for certificates, the shorter and shallower a program is, the less autonomy you can gain and the more often you will have to take another short program to stay relevant in your job, which brings us back to what I was saying earlier–it is a different business model at the end of the day. For-profit certificate providers offer programs to study bit by bit, but continuously, always going back to learn more as needed, versus certificates offered through universities that offer ways to learn the foundations more thoroughly and at a higher level, so that you become more self-sufficient in addition to becoming more operational.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What makes UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate programs unique, and particularly strong options for professionals and students alike seeking a way to propel their careers forward?
[Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle] The instructors who teach at UC Berkeley Extension rarely only teach–they are either cutting edge researchers or advanced, current professionals in their field who also happen to serve as instructors and mentors. One of the benefits of being UC Berkeley is that our brand name attracts truly excellent academics and industry experts to apply for instructor positions, and we select only the best ones. If I reach out to, say, the VP of risk management at a credit card company or another large corporation to teach a course in enterprise risk management, she is likely to actually apply for the position, because it is Berkeley. That is the kind of advantage we have–we provide an environment that is attractive to very high-level academics and industry professionals.
At Berkeley, faculty have every incentive to be constantly up-to-date with their research, and they put that into their teaching. The industry experts we hire here in the Bay Area are literally selected for the fact that they are leading in their field, and as a result the curricula for our programs are always organically up-to-date, and students can expect to learn the latest skills and best practices, along with latest technologies, the core principles and research methodologies, to help them succeed.
To learn more about the programs offered by UC Berkeley Extension, visit their website at extension.berkeley.edu.
Thank you, Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle, for your excellent insight into UC Berkeley Extension’s certificate offerings!
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