As institutions of higher education prepare for the upcoming fall semester, they continue to face strong headwinds. From the declining number of high school graduates enrolling in college to inflationary constraints, the future of postsecondary education is more uncertain than ever—especially amid fears of a recession.
At the same time, employers continue to face skills and talent shortages in a tight labor market.
Amid this extraordinary uncertainty, however, is an opportunity for institutions to support students, foster lifelong learning and meet the needs of employers, while maintaining a sustainable value proposition.
Here are four ways for institutions to “future-proof” themselves through career-connected education:
1. Become more market-driven
Career-connected education means adopting a ‘right to left’ education model, where institutions start with the needs of the labor market and work backward to build programs that meet those needs. For example, the University of West Alabama launched 19 new market-driven academic programs in five years to address specific gaps in areas such as business, mental health, and rural education based on extensive market research.
There are additional ways for institutions to become more market-driven, including:
- Embedding career services and micro-internships directly into courses
- Establishing program advisory boards with industry professionals to ensure students are learning the skills they’ll need to secure employment
- Evaluating work experience for transferable credit
- Ensuring program tuition aligns with graduate salaries—addressing a root cause of the student debt crisis
2. Expand academic pathways beyond the four-year degree
The four-year degree is no longer the only relevant credential for employment. In a recent survey, 73% of high schoolers said a direct pathway to a career is essential in postsecondary education, yet the likelihood of them attending a four-year institution dropped from 71% to 51% since February 2020. Students are increasingly seeking to leverage higher education to earn promotions, change careers and acquire new skills.
As a result, institutions must expand beyond the traditional four-year degree model by modularizing career-connected programs—from building faster degree and certificate programs, to launching stackable and incremental micro-credentials with certifications that unlock an immediate value in the workplace.
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