Mercy College—beyond the bachelor’s degree

There is perhaps no hotter trend in higher education than the certification program that can jumpstart a career, a transition or even lead to those still coveted but not always necessary bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The latest school to reflect this is Mercy College at Dobbs Ferry. In November, Mercy announced the appointment of Brian Amkraut, Ph.D. — then executive director of the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University — to serve as vice president and general manager of Mercy’s new Division of Workforce Credentialing and Community Impact.

Recently, the division launched CERTIFi, offering certificate programs and nondegree courses online and at Mercy’s campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan as well as in Dobbs Ferry.

“They run the gamut from technology to health — almost any endeavor that can benefit from certification in business today,” Amkraut says.

The offerings include cannabis education (job training and professional certificates); executive education (customer experience and women in leadership programs); finance (banking today); food truck entrepreneurship, what Amkraut calls a “niche area”; insurance sales accelerator; nonprofit and small business management; and boot camps for software development and design as well as web development.

Brian Amkraut, Ph.D., vice president and general manager of Mercy’s new Division of Workforce Credentialing and Community Impact. Courtesy of Brian Amkraut.

However, the far-thinking Amkraut adds, “I envision something that is not only about certifications but that can lead to a business degree.” He also imagines partnering with businesses in programs that might serve as sources of future employees. To that end he has reached out to the local business and educational communities, including BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services), The Business Council of Westchester and the Westchester County Association — all of whom he praises as “great, helpful organizations.” And Amkraut adds that the division is working with White Plains Hospital on a course for certified nursing assistants.

CERTIFi is also looking to make financial aid available for qualified individuals to “learn while they earn.” It’s a feature that dovetails with his own commitment to social justice. As he said in the spring issue of Maverick, Mercy College’s magazine, “…for too many years, higher education has been almost exclusively focused on putting high-schoolers into degree programs. And while that is admirable, it excludes much of our population, especially in the immediate areas surrounding our campuses, where life has gotten in the way of an immediate post-secondary college experience.

“I believe that you are never too old to learn and that it is incumbent upon us to create pathways for everyone — pathways which can empower people through skills and knowledge and thereby help close some of our gaps in wealth, income and social equity.”

Though he came to Mercy from Siegel Lifelong Learning at Case Western, Amkraut is actually a New Yorker who did his undergraduate work at Columbia University, majoring in chemistry, and his Ph.D. in history and Jewish studies at New York University, both in Manhattan.

He was on the path to what he calls “traditional professorship” and indeed he was professor of Judaic studies, as well as provost, at the Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland. But teaching teachers there “changed my view of what higher education can be.” When the college invited him to do administrative work, Amkraut says he “caught the academic administrative bug.” (In 2012, Siegal closed as a college and Case Western combined their adult learning programs into Siegal Lifelong Learning.)

Amkraut now makes his home in Riverdale, where he has rediscovered his rooting interests in the New York Yankees and Knicks, although he’s still a Cleveland Browns’ fan. Mercy’s Dobbs Ferry campus, overlooking the Hudson River, has given him a chance to get acquainted with the New York he didn’t know.

“When I left New York, I was a real Manhattanite,” he told Maverick magazine. “I’m very much enjoying the richness of the rest of the region.”

For more, visit mercy.certifi.edu.

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