Ivy League certificates come to Vail | VailDaily.com

Ivy League certificates come to Vail

Kim Nicoletti
Special to the Daily
Vail Centre programs include intimate work groups for lots of dynamic feedback.
Special to the Daily |

VAIL — Loyalty to an alma mater may be a thing of the past for many students, as they begin to attend a variety of universities and earn professional certificates. This changing face of education is referred to as “stacking” certificates, and it allows learners to develop their own, personalized curriculum to best suit their needs.

The Vail Centre is leading the way in this evolving educational paradigm, one in which Todd Wallis, Vail Centre’s chief operating officer, sees graduate, and even undergraduate, degrees becoming less sought after, while stacking professional certificates becomes a more widespread practice. And, it’s not just Wallis who predicts the change.

“Certificate programs are the fastest-growing segment of higher education, drawing younger and older students, alike,” Caroline Porter, of The Wall Street Journal, reports.

In fact, since 2008, online learning, graduate and undergraduate admissions have declined, Wallis says, adding that the fastest growing programs at universities involve certificates for mid-level professionals.

“People are starting to curate their own education. The certificate program is specifically built for mid-career professionals who don’t have the time or money to go back to school.”Todd WallisChief operating officer, Vail Centre

“These courses are specifically focused on professional development, provide takeaways that can be implemented immediately in the workplace and are an impressive credential for professionals, especially if they come from an Ivy League or top-notch university,” Wallis said.

The strategy makes sense, given the fact that many people will have multiple careers in one lifetime.

“People are starting to curate their own education,” Wallis said. “The certificate program is specifically built for mid-career professionals who don’t have the time or money to go back to school.”


Vail Centre is partnering with a number of renowned universities to deliver professional certificates, which compress a semester-long class into intensive, interactive programs that run anywhere from three to seven days, in Vail. Higher education institutes such as Yale University, Cornell University and Duke University fly in their professors, who teach the exact program the universities deliver on their campuses.

Last year, Vail Centre tested its model out by offering Duke’s nonprofit management program to about 20 people during a six-day intensive. It was the first time five professors came to Vail to teach the same program they regularly teach on campus. The program delved into leadership, grant writing, finance, social entrepreneurship, legal issues and more.

Participants such as Elyse Howard, of Habitat for Humanity in Vail, said the course “elevated my thought process,” and gave her “so much to take back to my organization.”

“The effectiveness of the class is immediate and actionable,” said Claudine Locascio, of Japan America Society in Denver. “The course exceeded all of my expectations, and it was an outstanding, high-level experience.”

In 2017, Vail Centre is partnering with Cornell and Duke to offer programs in: essential skills for leadership in hospitality, nonprofit management, diverse and inclusive leadership and corporate sustainability, respectively.

“The depth of knowledge — this is where there’s a clear distinction between professor-led programs and online classes or trainings,” Wallis said. “The amount of research, along with critical and creative thinking and collaboration of cohorts, case studies and the diversity of ideas are really what makes the biggest difference.”

Rather than walking away with a few tools from a training seminar, participants leave with the latest research on the topic, as well as experience with both creative and critical thinking, which often results in innovative ideas.

Vail Centre selects the courses by assessing their relevance to Eagle County and its surrounding community as its No. 1 priority, followed by its relevance to the state of Colorado and, then, destination learners (people who travel from out of state). Wallis sees the demographic ultimately settling in to about 50 percent Coloradoans and 50 percent destination learners.

Tuition depends upon the number of days and professors but typically ranges from $3,000 to $6,000.

Renowned universities are willing to partner with Vail Centre because they gain greater access to Vail Valley’s demographic, and, as a destination, Vail offers a gorgeous mountain environment with plenty of recreational and cultural opportunities.

“They just light up with the Vail concept,” Wallis said.

In turn, course participants and professors often introduce their families to Vail, which provide an “unbelievable economic benefit,” Wallis says, adding that he’s already seeing participants planning to return for vacations during the winter, when programming is intentionally not offered.

“The Vail Centre (brings) a brand new dynamic to higher education,” Wallis said.

In fact, it’s the first in the world to offer multiple certificates from multiple universities.

“Having brought this rich resource to Vail,” said2016 Duke training participant Kim Blackford from Schools for the Children of the World in Avon, “the greatest gift is: We are being given the tools to go as far as we can.”


Technology, for all its advances and benefits, can still leave professionals feeling disconnected. In fact, individuals are so bombarded with a virtual world of ideas, they often struggle to find time and space to engage with, and explore, their own.

Vail Centre’s intensive certificate programs provide an enriching environment for personal, face-to-face, relationships to form in a natural environment, which further supports adventure and exploration through group hikes, bike rides and the like.

“We’re looking for relationships to form and ideas to really cement themselves while you’re here on the Vail Centre campus,” said Ross Iverson, chief executive officer of Vail Centre.

And, it seems to be working. Bobby L’Heureux, of Big Hearts, Big Hands in Minturn, found that participating in a program with other nonprofits provided a rich learning experience. And, the targeted action plan the program introduced helped him grow his nonprofit in a more sustainable way, he says.

“Everyone wants you to succeed here — the Vail Centre, the professors and your peers — and that was very powerful in and of itself,” said 2016 Duke training participant Jenah Cason, of the Federation of Families of South Carolina.

Vail seems to be the perfect place to debut this new approach to evolving, higher education.

“The entrepreneurial spirit touches all of us in the Vail Valley,” said Liz James, Vail Centre’s communications director. “We are forging a new path for education.”

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