Editor’s note: eCampus News is exploring the future and potential of microcredentials in a multi-story series. Check back each week for fresh perspectives from educators and industry experts.
Fifteen years ago, the New York Times published an article about the “tuition game,” in which colleges raised tuitions to compete with rival schools and, in response, saw notable increases in their enrollments. In fact, enrollments continued to grow throughout the next four years. And then, suddenly, they began to decline. They have maintained their steady decline ever since.
1.7 million fewer students are enrolled today than were enrolled 10 years ago. Simultaneously, the cost of college has increased over 25 percent, the percentage of courses taught by tenured professors has steadily declined, and students are leaving degree programs with more than $30,000 in debt and often without the skills necessary for lucrative jobs.
While the data continues to demonstrate the financial benefits of a college degree, it’s evident that many learners are beginning to question the return on investment of the college experience and are searching for alternative ways to get an education.
But can students get the full benefits of a college degree if they’re not getting a traditional undergraduate experience? And what role should colleges play in providing students these opportunities? As the pandemic rolls on and institutions face the latest enrollment numbers, many colleges are now beginning to wonder: Is unbundling the degree program the future of higher education?
What Is an Unbundled Education?
A college education comprises more than in-class coursework. Unbundling education means breaking down or dismantling the college experience into its components: discipline-centered classroom learning, peer and professor networking, post-education resources and skills development, and experiences gained from student life.
While few are questioning the value of experiences gained from an on-campus degree program, many are questioning the cost. They argue that there are equally valuable experiences to be gained from early employment, mentors, and locally offered skills programs. Learners seek access to affordable, flexible courses and credentialing programs.
Unbundling the traditional degree program experience means allowing learners to earn degree-bearing credits from multiple sources and institutions, thereby curating their own course of study and personalizing their education to their skillsets, passions, and career goals.
Unbundling in Action: MOOCs and Micro-Credentials
Based on the results of an independent survey, it’s clear that students want more educational flexibility at a lower cost. And if we look at the recent rise in non-traditional student enrollments (students over the age of 24) and the increase of part-time graduate school enrollments, it seems that more and more learners are seeking an education they can balance with their work and family lives.
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