Wish you had an M.B.A., but don’t have time to spare from your business to get one? Planning to start a business, but can’t afford to get a degree in entrepreneurship from a college or university? Then you may be interested in a new trend: entrepreneurship certificate programs.

The New York Times, which dubs the programs “M.B.A. Lite,” reports that in the  2010-2011 school year, 260 colleges were offering entrepreneurship or small-business certificate programs. The courses are shorter and less expensive than traditional M.B.A.’s or entrepreneurship degrees. They cover topics ranging from writng a business plan, to marketing and advertising, to financial management and taxes. There are also certifications in more specific aspects of business, such as ecommerce.

The Times says programs are tailored for the busy schedules of business owners or people with full-time jobs who are considering starting a business, and the entrepreneurs in the story were pleased with what they got from the certifications. But are these programs really necessary?

As I read the article, I couldn’t help thinking of two great sources of entrepreneurial assistance–Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and SCORE. Much like certificate programs, these nonprofit organizations help startup and existing business owners learn the basics of business or fine-tune their existing operations. As in the certificate programs, you’ll typically be working with experts or small business owners from your local community.

A couple great things about SCORE and the SBDC that certificate programs don’t offer.

  1. They’re free. Yep, you heard me right–you can get help with just about every aspect of your business, from planning a marketing campaign to applying for a loan, gratis.
  2. They’re one-on-one. Unlike a class, you’ll be working directly with your SCORE mentor or SBDC Advisor, which means personalized attention exactly to what you need to know.
  3. They’re hands-on. SCORE and the SBDC get you working on problems in your business or challenges to your startup and solving them immediately. Certificate programs may offer some of the same hands-on aspect, but it’s not as core to the programs.

I highly recommend checking out both of these programs for the help you need.