The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted emerging challenges to the service model of American colleges and universities, while also presenting a strong opportunity for them to serve adult learners.
According to “New Horizons: American Universities and the Case for Lifelong Learning,” a new report from the Longevity Project, rising costs and a decline in the traditional student population has put many colleges at risk. At the same time, the pandemic has revealed a greater demand and need for reskilling among adult learners–a need that universities can, and should, help to fill.
“American universities and colleges have a unique set of teaching resources and connections to the job market. Those resources can be extended to help serve millions of adult learners who are in need of new skills for the rapidly changing workplace,” said Ken Stern, Chair of the Longevity Project.
Changes in technology and the economic cycle have repeatedly shifted the job market and increased the need for workforce development and training programs. As a result, nearly a million new training and certificate programs have sprung up around the country, according to research from Credential Engine.
These programs provide new opportunities for adult learners but often lack transparency, portability and accountability. This leaves many adult workers investing their time and money in order to burnish their workforce skills without clarity as to the market value of the credential or whether the credential can be “stacked” to earn higher level certification.
The report also offers a chance for institutions to form industry partnerships that will help them better meet the report’s recommendations.
“At a time when millions of displaced Americans are in need of retraining in order to re-enter the workforce, our nation’s universities must innovate in order to meet the needs of adult learners,” said Vickie Schray, chief external affairs officer for Zovio, an edtech services and solutions provider. “In 2021, we expect even more universities will expand their offerings to include workforce development programs designed to create pathways for greater economic mobility and close the skills gap, particularly in the area of technology.”
According to the new report, major universities have the opportunity to substantially improve the system by increasing portability and providing greater access to employers, as, for instance, Arizona State University (ASU) has done with its ASU Online program and Purdue University has accomplished with Purdue Global.
Traditionally, uncertainty about digital learning has been a barrier to traditional four-year programs fully participating in the adult learning marketplace. However, according to Ryan Lufkin, Senior Director of Global Higher Education Product Marketing at Instructure, the maker of Canvas LMS, “many universities experienced great success with distance learning during the pandemic. This newfound skill with digital technology can be used to expand beyond the residential model and serve new communities, especially underserved communities, in the future.” Instructure is a sponsor of the Longevity Project and collaborated in the development of the report.
Research from the Longevity Project and Morning Consult has revealed extraordinarily high levels of satisfaction with distance learning among adults during the pandemic, and the increased comfort of both universities and adult learners reveals significant opportunity for new services.
The new report notes that there are opportunities for policy makers to provide funding to colleges and universities and other institutions to expand adult learning programs and recommends that the federal government ensure that funding for adult learning programs observe standards of transparency, accountability and portability.
The Longevity Project fosters research and public conversation to build awareness of the implications of longer life and bring together leaders from business, government, and the social sector to plan for the transitions in health care, retirement planning, the future of work, and more.
Material from a press release was used in this report.