Business Owners: You Should Care That Colleges Are Struggling to Stay Relevant

5 min read
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. The spotlight has been intense on higher education over the last few years. As it’s on the receiving end of questions regarding the value of a degree, rising costs and ability to prepare students to meet employers’ needs, higher education needs to do everything it can to keep pace. The economy both in the US and around the world is changing rapidly; however, this only scratches the surface of these issues.

And while there needs to be attention on preparation for today’s careers, one must not lose sight of the fact that many current careers will not be present or in demand in the next decade. The reality is we don’t yet know what the career offerings will hold in 10 years. But many of the skills necessary for current careers will become obsolete — replaced by a new set of capabilities desired by employers.

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In the past decade, higher education has experienced an arms race on campuses across the country. Some are speculating that this race is coming to an end because institutions need to control budgets and resources. While these are valid limitations, institutions risk irrelevancy if they do not adjust programming to align with the jobs of not only today, but also those on the horizon. To date, much of the need for programmatic change has centered on institutions’ desires to attract students to their campuses and programs, with some attention to the changing needs of our country and the world. However, moving forward, institutions will face tremendous pressure to deliver programs that service the jobs of the future.

An institution’s assessment of program offerings cannot be a review that occurs with the most recent change of leadership or the latest strategic plan. Rather, colleges and universities must keep continuous and focused attention on the valuable data that will inform the roadmap for academic programming changes. The points on this roadmap can be defined through reviewing labor market data regularly. However, reviewing this data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not necessarily the answer.

Technology can help synthesize the data through more effective lenses and offer insights to chart the course for the next stage of changes. Data analysis will allow collegiate leaders to not only understand what occupations will be in demand, but also what the labor market outlook will be in their individual states, regions, metro areas and cities. While many alumni will stay nearby their respective institutions, it is also vital to understand what is occurring elsewhere in the country. Additionally, institutions must not lose sight of the skills related to those careers. They must be diligent in ensuring they offer programs that meet the current labor market’s needs as well as the skills that will be in demand in the future.

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Much of the ongoing industry discussion around the success, or lack thereof, of graduates in the current labor market highlights criticism of institutions and their need to close skills gaps, evolve their programming and cut costs. When focusing on the skills gap, employers should be careful not to undermine the value that institutions bring to the labor market. While there are corrections that can be made to address skills gaps and improve internship and employment placement, the relationship between employers and institutions doesn’t stop there. Employers will not only be dependent on colleges and universities to staff their organizations, but also to upskill and reskill those who are already on the payroll.

As many of the careers of today and their associated skills will be obsolete at the turn of the next decade, businesses and organizations must ask themselves how they will manage the retooling needed to keep themselves relevant and successful. Just as institutions depend on employers for success, the opposite is true as well. For this reason, it is imperative that institutions and employers collaborate, partner and align on strategies that will benefit both sides in achieving their goals.

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Economists and higher education experts appear unable to forecast the end of rising costs in higher education, particularly given the pandemic – thus continuing the conversation of whether it is all worth it. Resolving the debate surrounding the value of higher education is quite complex, but the equation must include a combination of relevant academic offerings plus skills alignment that can be offset by declining costs. Evaluating programs not only for relevancy to the labor market demands, but also for overall cost effectiveness, is crucial.

Combining workforce analytics that identify in-demand programs with solutions evaluating academic cost effectiveness is one way to relieve the current financial burden shouldered by institutions and their students. There is certainly value in the many programs institutions offer, but given the current climate, they need to produce positive employment outcomes now and in the future.


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