Despite newfound skepticism in higher education, leaders have a well of data to back up their faith in the sector. Just consider that individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn about 68% more weekly than those with just a high school diploma.
It’s up to higher education institutions to prove their worth. By demonstrating the continued value of a degree—and offering diverse, innovative learning options for students—schools can help restore public trust in higher education.
Recalibrating learning to meet shifting student and industry demands
Simply possessing a degree doesn’t cut it anymore. Two-thirds of adults think colleges are “stuck in the past” and do not meet the needs of today’s students. The growing disconnection is evident in the current job market, with more employers emphasizing workers with practical skills like critical thinking and problem-solving over those who simply have a degree.
Even those with a degree are questioning its value. In fact, 53% of recent college graduates refrain from applying to entry-level positions because they feel unqualified.
Consequently, forward-thinking institutions are adapting new and emerging fields of study that better equip graduates with career-focused skills.
The shifting job market necessitates higher education leaders to develop innovative continual learning options that better serve students and professionals and better showcase the continued value of higher education. Here are three ways your institution can get started.
1. Showcase the tangible benefits of education
Partner with your office of institutional effectiveness to gather data on graduate outcomes so that you can showcase the opportunities and outcomes programs generate. In particular, you can leverage data and statistics in marketing and recruitment materials, building trust with prospective students and offering transparency about their return on investment.
Pairing alumni stories and experiences with robust workforce data, employment rates, and salaries can help build awareness about the value of a program and how it will help students succeed in the long run.
2. Offer flexible programs that meet students’ diverse needs
More than half of students report they would pursue a skills-based learning opportunity to advance their careers or learn new skills. Institutions should capitalize on this growth opportunity by offering affordable, short-form and quick-impact education formats, such as microcredentials and stackable certifications.
These non-degree programs provide flexible avenues of learning for students geared toward the pace of the workplace; learners can gain skills applicable to their current and future roles quicker instead of committing to the longer time and higher cost of a traditional degree. When building such programs, it’s essential to provide flexible options (including online programs and courses held outside the conventional workday) and adaptable structures that allow students to stack courses or certifications into credits that count toward degree programs. Students have diverse education needs — and your institutions should offer a range of learning options to meet them.
3. Focus on agility and alignment with industry needs
Most importantly, it’s crucial to remain agile and evolve with industry demands. Higher education leaders can tap partners in the workforce to create career-focused and distinctive programs that appeal to students and align with the skills that employers are looking for.
Building advisory councils with industry professionals to provide guidance and identify in-demand skills and employer needs is one way to bring partners into the fold. You can also collaborate with alumni, local employers or third-party partners to keep a pulse on evolving industry trends and adapt programs to arm students with the skills they need for today’s workplace.
It’s time for higher education institutions to face the music
To better prepare current students for their future careers, the traditional format of continuing education has to advance alongside the shifts in the job market.
By expanding continual learning options and prioritizing skills-based learning, higher education leaders can create multiple and flexible pathways in higher education that demonstrate a commitment to students’ success. In a quickly shifting job market, institutions must adapt just as fast to ensure their programs’ long-term success and sustainability.