Degrees don’t guarantee outcomes – clear pathways do

Making job outcomes apparent before a learner considers enrolling is one of the best things an institution can do for student success.
By: | November 30, 2021
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Study more, earn more.

Amrit Ahluwalia is director of strategic insights at Modern Campus.

It’s been a prevailing notion in higher education that the greater the credential achieved, the greater a student’s career outcomes. The countless hours and dollars spent were palatable to students of years past because they, at least at the time, had proved to be in service of something greater. The cost of education was nothing to scoff at, it promised to pay out in multitudes years down the line—if not immediately upon gainful employment. It was a pretty good deal.

Sadly, the deal hasn’t been that good since then.

In recent years, the value of the degree has waned. Although the knowledge sets and skills imparted are still necessities for many positions, opportunities to achieve these essential skills elsewhere have exploded, fast turning into the closest thing higher ed has ever seen to a buyer’s market.

Traditional modes of education continue to take a hit, however. A recent analysis of the US census by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 16% of high school graduates, 23% of workers with some college education, and 28% of associate degree holders earn more than 50% of workers with a bachelor’s degree.

Degree holders aren’t earning what they should be

Although the decline in income may also be partly due to other variables—such as the earner’s age, field of study, occupation, gender, race, ethnicity and location—the trend’s message is loud and clear: More than half of the degree-bearing population isn’t getting what they thought they’d paid for, and the earnings gap between education levels widens as learners age.

Learners are confused about job outcomes

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t get what you paid for, then you can look at the earnings gap as the same scenario playing out on a macro level. Maybe you felt the seller misrepresented the product, or perhaps there wasn’t enough information available about the item for you to make an informed decision.

Dr. Ban Cheah, research professor and senior economist at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), said it’s often the latter in the case of higher ed.

“Students need professional guidance on the economic outcomes of college and career pathways before they make one of the biggest decisions of their lives,” Cheah said.

His sentiment reflects another increasingly popular notion in higher ed: that making job outcomes apparent before a learner considers enrolling is one of the best things an institution can do for student success.

Clear career pathways engage learners, ensure satisfaction

Learners enrolling at your institution have a surplus of career paths available to them. Each of your programs is a value-adding opportunity that can yield high returns for those who register, but not every opportunity fits every learner’s needs, interests and abilities.

The problem isn’t a lack of paths to take, but a lack of transparency around the pathways themselves.

The task for modern institutions, then, is as simple as it is critical: Make career pathways apparent from the first touch.

Put job market data where learners can see it

Today’s learners want to enroll at an institution that puts them on track for a high-earning career aligned with their interests and capabilities. The best way to help learners understand that your institution meets this criterion is to outline those pathways on your school’s website, pairing every offering with relevant job market data.

Showcase relevant career data, such as salaries, local job postings and projected industry growth on your course, program and certificate pages. Such information has the added benefit of helping students connect with your institution instantly, as the guesswork of calculating an offering’s value is removed completely.

This may sound like an intimidating task, but a robust registration system will continuously pull up-to-date career statistics for every course and program for display on the appropriate pages—eliminating legwork for your staff.

Make clear career outcomes a top priority

One of the biggest barriers to closing the earnings gap is the widespread inability for learners to make informed decisions based on concrete data. As the Georgetown University report suggests, it’s imperative that institutions make clear job outcomes a priority from their very first point of contact with a student.

By including this information front and center, you can not only drive learner engagement but also guarantee long-term student success and satisfaction.

Amrit Ahluwalia is director of strategic insights at Modern Campus, an industry leading student first modern learner engagement platform. He is also the editor-in-chief of The EvoLLLution, an online newspaper developed by Modern Campus to create a conversation hub focused on non-traditional higher education and the transforming postsecondary marketplace. Follow Amrit on LinkedIn.

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