Rick Seltzer reports in Dive into higher education that a recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded study of 18- to 30-year-olds without a college degree found that “respondents prioritized their own emotional, mental and financial health more frequently than a college education . The researchers asked them about their personal goals over the next few years. Almost nine in 10 respondents, 87%, said good mental and emotional health was either important or their top priority, making it the most popular response. Financial stability, cited by 85%, comes in just second place, and in third place, earning more money, at 80%.
A new survey from Coursera shows that most employers and students view short-term industrial certificates as a valuable addition to a college degree and a positive element in the hiring and job search process. Michael T. Nietzel, former president of Missouri State University, writing in Forbesreports, “Of the U.S. students surveyed, 81% believed that micro-degrees would help them succeed in their jobs, and 74% said the presence of relevant micro-degrees would influence their choice of a degree program in their university. ”
Colleges and universities must respond to the needs, wants and demands of our customers – the students, families and employers who pay for and consume our learning products. The truth is that desired workforce characteristics change. The last century model of employees working many years, even decades, at one job for one employer is long gone. As such, one degree will not support a lifetime of working degrees. A continuous stream of upskilling and retraining will be necessary for lifelong success.
It is not about giving up the baccalaureate or graduate degrees. Rather, it is about providing more students with affordable and effective ways to build a scaffolding of knowledge and skills to successfully launch rewarding careers in an ever-changing economy. Plus, it’s about creating avenues for continuous improvement and advancement for those already in the workforce.
Today, largely due to advances in technology, the skills required of the workforce change rapidly from year to year. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report released last month shows the median number of years employed workers have been with their current employer was 4.1 years in January 2022. For men, it was 4.3 year ; for women, it was 3.9 years. This means that almost as soon as workers start a new job, they research and prepare for the next job. This means that they are also on the lookout for relevant certificates that attest to their desire to successfully take the next step in their career.
Not to trivialize these changes in any way, as a recreational golfer I can’t help but see an analogy to the game. my opinion (and my abilities), golf is much more of a short game. The short game is focused on the last 100 yards. About two-thirds of all golf shots are in the short game. Forty percent of all shots are on the green. So it seems that learning and practice is better focused on finishing the job for this hole. This is where the reward comes in (birdie, par, bogey or worse). The savvy golfer focuses on developing the short game to hit every hole, just as the learner works on adding incremental skills and knowledge to progress in their career.
A college bachelor’s degree today is like the long fairway; it takes four to five years of full-time study to complete. Colleges and universities will of course continue to meet this need for long and comprehensive training. But, given the needs of employers and the priorities of students and families to produce a faster and more economical return on investment, short-term certificate programs are attractive. For example, the University of California, Davis reports of its programs that “most certificate programs take about two years if you take one course per term. Intensive certificate programs are typically completed in 10-12 weeks of full-time study. Custom certificate programs can take up to five years.
As we prepare for the needs of learners, we must take stock that some will continue to require a bachelor’s degree, however, all will require ongoing professional development in the form of additional certificates, certifications, internships , apprenticeships and other learning opportunities. . Stackable certificates offer a way to buttress learning in marketable increments, providing career progression along the way. This is where learning can be focused on the job at hand, while accumulating longer-term benefits in the form of associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees. It is in this combination of offers that the long-term “return” on the cumulative investment in education is realized.
So how could an institution start adding the short game to its portfolio? First, we evaluate our current offerings to match their relevance to the field both today and planned for the future. We can only do this with close cooperation and coordination with professionals already in the field. Adjustments are made as needed. We also work with employers to identify learning outcomes, typically across multiple classes, that qualify successful completion as meeting the needs of entry-level candidates for a class of position. These are then assembled into a sequence that can be effectively completed and assessed, perhaps using virtual and augmented reality tools to best simulate real-world application of learned skills, methods and principles. With the help of interested students and families, we find the best match to fix costs, delivery methods and course loads. By taking this approach, we engage all three groups of our stakeholders (employers, prospective students and families) to help faculty and staff shape the best product. This commitment process is repeated periodically to add more certificate sequences and update older ones.
Does this type of internal/external collaboration translate into frequent reviews and revisions of your program? Are your department’s curricula up-to-date and relevant to employers in all relevant fields? Are you meeting the needs of students and families by frequently and deeply engaging them in developing workload standards for courses, delivery methods, certificate lengths, and desired career outcomes?