Higher education is facing unprecedented challenges. In addition to the gap between what students learn and what the industry needs, employees need new or updated credentials. Higher education will never be eliminated, but it must evolve.
There is certainly a gap between what graduates bring and what employers request. Today, even with the pandemic recession and the massive unemployment, college credentials are needed. Nevertheless, one has to accept that having a college degree is not enough. Any professional must engage in ongoing personal/professional growth.
Continuing education is demanded in a marketplace interested in hiring talented team players who demonstrate the use of both hard and soft skills.
Higher education must reinvent itself and consider the challenges and opportunities of disruptive knowledge, artificial intelligence, or robotic technology as well as the new waves of and the implementation of smart technologies. It poses colleges the opportunity to offer credentials to skill, up-skill and re-skill learners with a worthwhile educational experience.
Higher education must be conscious of the ongoing challenges and required changes in education to avoid the tendencies of disenfranchising learners from traditional education. For instance, Google is launching its own Google Career Certificates, which are called “foundational skills.” In effect, Kent Walker, senior VP of global affairs at Google mentioned, “College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security.”
One of the rebuttals against college education is that a college degree may not receive the same value or recognition as in the past, which in some cases may be real. But we should also consider the field of study as well as the degreed professionals who may not be working in the field of their major.
On the other hand, employers are most interested in getting professionals who possess emotional intelligence and the ability to utilize critical thinking, creativity and innovation, all of which may not be taught but experienced in college.
The changes one sees in data analytics, statics, cybersecurity, informatics and many other fields just reaffirm that what employees need are knowledge and skills supported by credentials. One thing is true, there is a big gap between what employers need and what higher education offers.
If there are so many needs and employers are predisposed to invest in their workforce and employees are committed to getting those skills; then, it is op to the colleges to adapt to these new dynamics and offer skills, credentials and degrees that are mostly demanded.
Businesses need to find new ways to operate safely and successfully, while many workers require new skills and training to upskill and reskill their abilities. Post-secondary education plays a fundamental role in meeting these demands. While an unaccredited certificate can potentially give one a job, an accredited certificate or an academic credential can give one a career.
Another alternative to credentialing the workforce would be what the Lumina Foundation called “Connecting credentials”, a framework of stackable competencies provided by the acquisition of micro-credentials that could be recognized as transferable.
On the other hand, while unaccredited low-cost certificates may provide one an opportunity to “know something,” an accredited higher education institution will provide “learning” and more importantly, a career supported with up-to-date workforce development solutions customized to support industries in rebuilding the U.S. economy.
Why higher education is still well-suited to serve any industry? There are several reasons why college education is vital even with all the challenges higher education faces. First, people with degrees and higher education credentials are better equipped for job access, sustainable income, and career advancement, assuming graduates keep themselves active in continuing education.
Secondly, there is a reason why many companies offer tuition reimbursement and value continuing education. It is not just as a benefit but also an investment.
Finally, the access to accredited credentials and the opportunity to get customized qualifications with pathways to degree achievement demonstrate the relevancy of formal education.
The opportunity to learn new competencies and up-skill the workforce labor must be aligned with a framework of adaptation to the new remote learning modalities, complemented with online, hybrid, and virtual environments to easily access to the new learning dynamics. The marketplace needs are being constantly altered and the higher education paradigms must also adapt and adjust to the new demands of the labor market.
Hector Ortiz, PhD, is a Community Liaison and Contract Manager in Dauphin County Human Services. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Harrisburg Area Community College.