New UTEP Certificate to Benefit Nonprofit Agencies
Last Updated on February 13, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 13, 2020
By Daniel Perez
In response to a community need, The University of Texas at El Paso's Master of Public Administration (MPA) program has launched a new 15-hour graduate-level certificate in nonprofit administration and governance targeted to individuals who want to work for or lead nonprofit agencies.
There are an estimated 600 charitable nonprofit organizations registered in the Paso del Norte region that assist with health care, education, employment, community beautification, volunteerism, advocacy, financial assistance and more.
At times, these groups face challenges with tax issues, fundraising, government regulations, or the need for more instruction on how to run these specialized institutions.
John Bretting, Ph.D., associate professor and director of UTEP’s MPA program, said nonprofit leaders have asked him and other MPA faculty for additional technical and managerial courses that would benefit their peers and, in turn, their organizations. Program faculty have worked diligently through the years to incorporate more instruction in nonprofit administration, and declared in fall 2019 that it could offer the special certification.
“There has been an exuberance among (nonprofit) leaders,” Bretting said of their reaction to the certification. “Some have said it was about time.”
The program offers 11 courses on such topics as the law, leadership, human resources, local government, finance and accounting, fundraising, and marketing.
Bretting gave much of the credit for the certification to Eric Boyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of public administration. UTEP hired Boyer in 2014 for the MPA program in part to develop the certification program. Boyer, whose research interests include how public, private and nonprofit organizations can work together effectively, led the effort to develop two of the necessary certification courses.
“He turbo-charged the effort,” Bretting said.
Boyer shared the credit for course advancement with Bretting, a longtime instructor of nonprofit studies; Karla lscapa, the MPA’s program manager, who assisted with the administrative part of the certification development; and Crystal Herman, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, who provided support and information throughout the approval process.
One of the courses that Boyer developed, Public and Nonprofit Program Evaluation, focuses on applied evaluation. He said this course would help leaders of nonprofit and public agencies to understand how they can calculate the importance of their programs, which can be tough when an agency bases success on how its services enhance lives and not by profits or other monetary measures. Students in this course will learn about the national standards of program evaluation, how to develop collection procedures and data analysis, as well as how to measure and communicate those results to professional clients.
Boyer said he is passionate about this effort because he worked for nonprofits for more than five years before he earned his doctorate in 2012 from George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration.
“I have seen firsthand the essential work that charitable nonprofits do to improve communities and to serve vulnerable populations,” Boyer said. “Nonprofits leverage community-based entrepreneurship to address important social problems that are overlooked or underinvested in by government or businesses. I believe that the more that we can help nonprofit leaders develop technical and managerial skills, the more impact they can have in providing these essential services in society.”
Among the students interested in the concentration is Diana Hastings, senior programs administrator with the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region. She plans to graduate with her MPA degree in May 2020.
The married mother of two young sons said she has taken several courses for her concentration and all have helped with her job that includes oversight of marketing and Texas veterans programs as well as education programs for early learning academies, summer camps and after school activities.
Hastings, an El Paso native who grew up in Juárez, Mexico, mentioned how much she liked a nonprofit management course where students had to create and maintain a nonprofit agency. The first-generation college student said she designed a website, organized a fundraiser and wrote several grants to secure funds.
“It was fun and very informative,” said Hastings, who earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and criminal justice from UTEP in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
The YWCA executive also lauded a research methods course that would help her evaluate the success of her after school programs. She approaches every course with the same enthusiasm to include a spring 2020 course in Public and Nonprofit Program Evaluation.
“I can’t wait to see how I can incorporate program evaluation into all the programs I manage in order to improve our services to the El Paso community,” Hastings said. “I am very excited!”
Laura Ponce, executive director of Project BRAVO and member of the MPA program’s advisory council, said the program’s new certificate is a great tool that UTEP should promote among the various nonprofit boards. She said she planned to advise her junior administrators to enroll in it.
Ponce, a native of Juárez, Mexico, grew up in El Paso’s Lower Valley. She earned her bachelor’s degree in literature in 1995 from Harvard University and her MPA degree in 2007 from UTEP. She has led Project BRAVO, a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of residents of modest means within El Paso County, for almost 10 years, and has worked for nonprofit agencies for more than 20 years.
The director said she believes the new certificate will offer individuals important insights into the intricacies of how nonprofits operate and thrive. She said successful nonprofit administrators must be familiar with budgets, human resources, communication and the applicable laws as well as how to work in an organization’s culture.
She said she has served on panels that review funding applications from nonprofits, and she can see the need for additional training.
“Sometimes organizations pick a leader based on the person’s personality and believe that the person will be a great fundraiser, but the person has no management skills,” Ponce said. “They have no clue about administration of federal grants, and those things can be very tricky. You can get in trouble if those funds are not administered correctly.”
While the certification courses are for graduate students, undergraduate students may take practical and informative courses about nonprofits through the Department of Political Science, which oversees the MPA program. The department offers a minor in public administration.
The announcement about the new certificate program follows last year’s notice that the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration reaccredited the University’s MPA program for another six years. The UTEP program is among 400 institutions in the world that are accredited.
Bretting said the accreditation is important because it adds value and prestige to the degree from an employer’s perspective, and acknowledges to prospective students that UTEP is among the best schools in this field.“It’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for what we do,” he said.