Certificates in Urban and Regional Planning at CofC 

by Barry Waldman

In a region hemmed in by the ocean, bursting at the seams with population growth, desperately holding off sea rise, lacking public transportation and facing an affordable housing crisis, few people are more important than urban and regional planners.

Indeed, the nation will need 10,600 new urban planners in 10 years, according to the career advancement platform Career Explorer. That represents 13% growth in the field. It might be higher in the Charleston metropolitan area, which is growing significantly faster than average for the U.S.

A certificate in just one year

For anyone interested in urban planning, the College of Charleston offers a master’s degree program and a certificate – just four courses to a credential in the field.

Dr. Judy Millesen, the director of College of Charleston’s Master of Public Administration program, says the certificate alone is unlikely to prepare someone for a career in urban and regional planning. It does offer two other benefits.

First, it provides individuals working in related fields with a broad introduction to regional planning. “The certificate helps them think through land use law and the history of urban planning, so they can make decisions informed by future they want to see and in consideration of a past that may not have worked well for others,” she said.

Second, it can provide entry into the MPA program with a focus on urban and regional planning. The certificate program is just four courses – easily completed by working professionals in a single year. It includes on required course in the history and theory of urban planning; one among a group of options in public policy; one among several options in the legal issues involved in the field and one in geographic information systems – mapping!

Dr. Millesen explains that GIS is an essential tool for urban planners in the 21st century. “If you’re looking at flood zones, you can overlay with community demographics. Or if you want to better understand poverty or food insecurity, you can overlay community demographics with food banks, and transport systems to determine where there might be barriers to people accessing available food,” she said.

The certificate as stepping stone

Many students begin in the certificate program and go on to earn their MPA. They can apply the 13 credits they have already earned to the full master’s, which is 36 credits. Others declare at the time of application to the master’s program indicating their intent to focus on urban planning issues. Students can earn the certificate as an intermediate step before graduating.

According to the school, graduates of the certificate program develop three broad skills: to identify and summarize the theoretical traditions of urban and regional planning, to explain how public policy affects municipal administration, and to perform at least one of the skills of urban planning – economic development, GIS and legal analysis of public policy.

One recent graduate entered the MPA program with a strong social justice perspective and found a way to harness her passion through to the certificate program. She discovered that without thoughtful urban planning – e.g., attention to housing, roads, public transportation, etc. – the needs of under-represented communities would continue to be marginalized. Armed with her master’s and the certificate, she secured a job with the City of Charleston as an urban planner. 

We need more regional planning! Here’s how to sign up

Urban and regional planning are urgent concerns in the Lowcountry, where 10,000 people move into the market annually, putting pressure on the housing market, the transportation system, the environment and on the general quality of life in the area. According to Dr. Millesen, other critical issues regional planners are juggling include gentrification, disaster planning and the impact of short-term rentals on the housing market. 

“If we’re going to grow and increase the number of jobs here then we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them,” she said about regional planning. “We’re going to have to think and act differently, and regional planners will be on the forefront of that thinking.”Applications for the summer session are due April 1. Visit here for more information and to apply.