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A Worthwhile Alternative

Alternative credentials provide an opportunity for higher education.

The dramatic birthrate drop that resulted from the Great Recession of 2008 has created an enrollment cliff that higher education is dealing with. Using existing resources to create new revenue is one way to address a part of the revenue shortfall.

The Skills Gap

What is the skills gap? This Brookings Institute article explains the concept and challenges in more detail, but in short, the changing nature of work resulting from emerging technologies and other forces no longer aligns with the current talent, experience, and education of the workforce.

With the changing workforce and the gap between the practical experience students have when leaving college and what employers require for new employees, alternative credentials are becoming increasingly important and can provide an alternative source of revenue for colleges and universities struggling with declining enrollments. The most common type of alternative credentials is referred to as a micro-credential. The National Education Association describes micro-credentials as a “competency-based digital form of certification.”

Fully remote and hybrid work is now commonplace

The pandemic opened the door to the widespread acceptance of remote teaching and learning. It also resulted in a significant increase in the number of employees who now work either fully remote or hybrid. Prior to the pandemic when I was a state government employee, it was rare to find an employee that worked anywhere but in the office. There were conversations with various employee groups about that possibility, but it always seemed that the limitations of the technology or the trust of allowing employees to work remotely from a productivity perspective presented insurmountable barriers regarding remote work. However, because of the pandemic, most state employees were required to work from home, and post-pandemic that unintended experiment resulted in the broad-based acceptance of the concept which continues today. Higher education is no different and neither are many other industries.

Therefore, we have a population of current and recently graduated students who have gotten used to learning remotely, a teaching population that has done the same, and employers and employees who are just as comfortable with Microsoft Teams or Zoom as they are with in-person meetings. It is only logical that the ability to deliver job-specific training through remote courses is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of.

This type of training would not just be for new employees. The idea of alternative credentials for employees with 10 or 20 years of experience is also very important. Those employees provide stability to an organization during times of high turnover. Experienced employees will become more productive and less likely to switch jobs if the employer offers upskilling opportunities.

Colleges and universities have a low barrier of entry into this space

For certain degree programs which require internships or practicums higher education has created the necessary strategic partnerships with private businesses, hospitals, schools, etc. Now new partnerships need to be developed with businesses in need of employee training and colleges in need of more students. Colleges and universities already have the teaching staff and the learning management systems in place that could be used to develop coursework that addresses the skills needed today. With a low cost of entry, the margins from this new revenue source would be ideal for colleges and universities especially those that are experiencing declining enrollments.

There is nothing new about the concept of online, asynchronous learning. Courses are offered by well-known platforms like LinkedIn Learning and the newer Grow with Google. Many colleges and universities already offer degree programs in this way. Higher education has the resources, talent, and reputation to develop industry-specific, employer-specific, respected certificate programs quickly and at very little cost. They are also well-positioned to market those programs. This could move post-graduate teaching and learning beyond the classroom and into the conference room, cubicle, or office of an employer who needs the appropriate training to address the ever-changing skills gap and in turn generate much-needed revenue for their college or university partner.

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