As meeting planning reaches a new level of professionalism, the number of degrees and certificate programs has taken off. But will they help you to get a job?
For many years, the only college degree program in meeting planning was offered in the somewhat unlikely city of Madison, Wis. That’s where, in the mid-1990s, the state’s ambitious Meeting Professionals International chapter decided that it was time to act.
“We got together and said, ‘We’re really tired of training people,’” recalls Janet Sperstad, CMP, a past president of the Wisconsin MPI chapter and recent MPI International Planner of the Year. “And the hoteliers were saying, ‘We’re tired of getting people who don’t know how to plan meetings!’ We all wanted a formal education program that would help people enter the profession. Suppliers needed a more educated customer. And for those of us looking to hire people, we’d have a whole different talent pool to pull from.”
The chapter wanted to create something beyond a certificate program and found a willing partner in the administration at Madison Area Technical College. “Madison College has a strong hospitality program, and one of their faculty members was an MPI member; he said he’d help,” Sperstad says. “Some of the four-year universities we spoke with didn’t know where it belonged. And some weren’t quick enough in their response. We weren’t going to wait four years; we wanted it now, so it was born in Madison.”
Sperstad, who is credited as being the founder of the nation’s first associate degree in meeting management, is now a faculty member. The first students graduated in 2004, and there are currently 90 students enrolled full time. The cost is $100 per credit hour; for students starting from scratch with no other higher education credits, it will cost just under $8,000 to earn the degree.