In recent years, members of the workforce have been turning to certifications, micro-credentials, and other short-term forms of professional development to learn new skills and advance in their careers without having to embark on a traditional degree program.

This past January, Saint Leo University proudly unveiled its new Center for Alternative Pathway Programs (CAPPs). Under this center, there are three areas of learning – micro-credentials, professional development courses, and community enrichment opportunities.

We recently caught up with Dr. Cindy Lee, director of this center, to learn more about this exciting new realm of education from Saint Leo.

Q: What was your background prior to teaching and coming to Saint Leo University?

A: I am a licensed clinical social work therapist specializing in PTSD, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.

Q: When did you come to Saint Leo University and what have your roles been?

A: I came right out of the therapy field to start teaching at Saint Leo in 1999. I was the field director and later the chair of our Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program. I helped develop and launch ourMaster of Social Work (MSW) program and served as director for 10 years. This was one of the very first fully online degree programs in the nation that used a web conferencing platform.

Q: How did you get involved in the idea behind the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs (CAPPs)?

A: I think Saint Leo's leadership team believed in my abilities since I had started our innovative online MSW program years ago and have experience in delivering quality courses in a variety of formats.

Dr. Mary Spoto, vice president of academic affairs, originally presented the idea to me. She mentioned how she determined based on research on emerging trends in higher education and the future of work that there are skill gaps cropping up in the workplace. Basically, students are graduating with a bachelor's degree but aren't receiving many opportunities to add new skills to their toolboxes through professional development as fields and job duties evolve over time. Research has shown that the shelf life of skills is only about four years on average, and it's actually getting shorter as time goes on.

Employers are saying that when they interview many college graduates, they often struggle to articulate the skills they have learned and mainly speak to their degrees. So, we decided we wanted to help fill that void. Also, jobs are changing so fast these days that it requires continuing education and re-tooling of skills to stay competitive in the workplace, which creates the need for alternative credentials that professionals can obtain quickly.

Q: What exactly are micro-credentials?

A: A micro-credential is essentially a short curriculum that is based on a very specific topic. In most cases, it may only take from just a few days up to three months to complete a micro-credential. This allows learners to quickly learn a new skill and apply it to their work in a much shorter timeframe than it would take to earn a degree or certificate.

Earning a micro-credential demonstrates to employers and others that an individual has mastered a specific skill. This could be anything from a micro-credential on Microsoft Excel to how to manage conflict within a workplace.

Q: How are micro-credentials presented to others?

A: After completing one of our micro-credentials, you will earn a digital badge. This visual badge can be displayed on social media profiles like LinkedIn, on a digital resume, in your email signature, or even on a portfolio website. This digital badge shows the skills attained, what the learner actually did in the curriculum to attain those skills, and how well they learned those particular skills.

Q: Who would be most likely to earn a micro-credential?

A: Typically, an individual who wants to upskill his or her skill set and is currently working within a particular field would be most likely to earn a micro-credential. However, in some cases, a recent high school or college graduate wanting to get a jump on his or her career could also be a candidate for this type of credential. Similarly, students enrolled in college degree programs may add a micro-credential to their education to supplement what they're learning in their degree program.

The main reason for pursuing micro-credentials goes back to which skills are required to do a specific job. Job duties often evolve over time, and employees must be able to adapt to new responsibilities.

Q: How are these micro-credentials delivered?

A: The micro-credentials Saint Leo is offering may be either synchronous or asynchronous, meaning that some will be much more self-paced like an independent study while others will incorporate face-to-face interaction with an instructor at a set time each week. It really depends on the type of micro-credential and which format provides the most effective education to the learner.

Q: Which specific micro-credentials are currently being offered by Saint Leo University?

A: We currently offer micro-credentials on:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Grantsmanship
  • Project management
  • Basic security management

We plan to offer more micro-credentials in the areas of healthcare, business, and technology, but of course we will eventually have a much broader selection across even more disciplines as well.

Q: What are the professional development courses being offered by Saint Leo University?

A: These particular professional development courses are being facilitated through a third-party platform called Mind Edge.

These courses, which do include some certifications, are all self-paced. Many of the courses are bundled together into a series of courses under one subject area. Topics covered include:

  • Business management
  • Finance
  • Leadership
  • Online learning
  • Web design

While these professional development courses are designed like independent study coursework, if someone has a question, they can certainly contact the customer service team at Mind Edge and receive assistance from an actual instructor. This is a very user-friendly platform and one that we found to be the best among the ones that we researched.

Q: Why did Saint Leo decide to offer community enrichment courses through CAPPs?

A: Dr. Spoto was telling me about how the president and our cabinet wanted to find ways to serve the community, especially during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So, I reached out to our department chairs and directors asking for suggestions on free courses we could offer to the community.

We received a good amount of feedback from our instructors and came up with a list of courses our own faculty could teach.

Q: What are the courses currently being offered through this community enrichment program?

A: The current courses include:

  • Stress Management for Youth
  • Stress Management for Healthcare Professionals
  • Effective Strategies for Working Remotely
  • Budget Baking
  • Happy Little Art Activities
  • From Pantry to Garden: Planting Dried Beans
  • Backyard Birding
  • Keeping a Naturalist Diary
  • Boost Your Immunity: Staying Healthy n' Fit in Isolation
  • Quarantine Spirituality for the Family

Of course, we're hoping to expand this list as time goes on.

While these courses can be done on your own, you can still email your instructor with any questions or feedback on them. Keep in mind that these courses are free for anyone to take.

Q: What are your future goals with the Center for Alternative Pathway Programs?

A: We plan to partner with specific employers and tailor our continuing education programs to the specific skills one would need to get a job at one of these companies. In essence, we'll be customizing them very specifically and strategically.

Overall, we'd like to offer the most relevant and practical micro-credentials that will benefit the largest audience.

Q: How can prospective learners find out more about Saint Leo's professional development and community enrichment opportunities through CAPPs?

A: You can read more about all of these exciting opportunities on the CAPPs page.

You can also contact Amanda Forrester, our program administrator, at