Universities will need to embrace the needs of non-traditional students, who want a choice in where, when and how they learn

3 trends supporting the rise of non-traditional students

Universities will need to embrace the needs of non-traditional students, who want a choice in where, when and how they learn

According to a new study from Kansas State University, returning to college to earn a bachelor’s degree leads to both an immediate increase in annual income after graduation and an increase in annual income growth each year after graduation. Students who return to college and finish a bachelor’s degree earn on average $4,294 more immediately after graduation and experience an extra income growth of $1,121 per year, on average. The average age at graduation for students who re-enroll and finish their degrees is 27, and those students have a lot of working years left to experience improved labor market outcomes.

Growth in stackable and credential programs.
While stackable and microcredentials in higher education have been discussed for many years, we are seeing tangible evidence that they are beginning to have a real impact in the market. To further cater to non-traditional learners that need career-relevant skills, colleges can adopt this modularity in their curriculum and their credit recognition policies, offering students more education pathways and increased flexibility in subject matter and degree completion timelines.

Two examples of high-profile programs using this approach are Harvard’s MicroBachelors® Program in University Chemistry, which includes four courses that translate to eight academic credits, and Southern Methodist University, which recently introduced a credit waiver for its Data Science boot camp. The waiver offers learners who previously earned a bachelor’s degree the ability to apply for credit toward SMU’s online Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) program upon completion of the boot camp.

In describing the program, Peter K. Moore, SMU’s Associate Provost for Curricular Innovation and Policy has said, “A stackable framework—where students springboard from one incremental level of learning to the next, acquiring knowledge and credentials of increasing value and complexity—lets learners account and adjust for so many factors: changing educational goals, shifting financial realities, and their own evolving life experiences.”

More employers relaxing degree requirements and embracing alternative credentials.
In the struggle to find workers and fill positions, some employers have been loosening minimum qualifications for positions at every level, including waiving college degree requirements. Companies that adopt this approach stand to benefit from a larger, more diverse hiring pool – a recent report found that 60 percent of the U.S. workforce does not have a college degree, but obtained the skills for a high wage job through non-traditional means.

This shift in how employers find talent may have been accelerated by the pandemic, but it’s a persistent trend that could help open an additional 1.4 million jobs to workers without college degrees over the next five years. Microsoft is one example of a company that believes there are many pathways to the technology industry, which is enabling them to leverage talent from previously untapped talent pools. While degrees won’t disappear anytime soon (nor should they in most cases), companies will need to make shifts and exceptions in certain industries, especially where diverse talent is sorely needed and where relevant skills can be learned and assessed effectively and efficiently.

As learner needs continue to shift, and the intersection between education and work becomes even more apparent, universities will need to embrace the non-traditional to meet the demands of today’s consumer – students who want a choice in where, when and how they learn.

eSchool Media Contributors