What We Know: How Institutions Can Best Prepare Students for What Comes Next
What a continuing education division offers students can have a significant impact on the surrounding community in its near future. The skills taught within an institution will soon be used in the businesses that may have been critical to informing course curriculum in the first place. So it’s key for CE to stay up to date with what’s in demand.
On this episode of the Illumination podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia is joined by Adam Fein, Vice President for Digital Strategy and Chief Information Officer of the University of North Texas. The two discuss the industrywide interest in micro-credentials and what’s possible for an institution to accomplish with micro-credentials within the context of traditional academic framework.
Micro-credentials are still, in large part, being driven by the institution. Higher ed has a history of developing these accessible credentials for student, but there are times when that access may not be properly offered.
“The immediate drivers right now are coming from workforce developments, federal or state governments, and industry,” Fein says. “The value of a degree is being questioned, the length of a degree is being questioned. The outcomes of a degree are being questioned, and that’s all the credential.”
More and more, people are wondering if the traditional four-year degree is the right fit for them, and if it will provide marketable skills. Something deemed essential in a student’s first year could be completely outdated by the time they graduate.
The switch from a degree to micro-credentials doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Similar techniques and ideas taught in the four-year program can be shortened into a more digestible micro-credential program.
There is value in the flexibility that micro-credentials offer; social mobility, financial value and family availability are all key components to micro-credentials.
“Post pandemic, a lot of companies have divided they want to pay their employees to get a bachelor’s degree,” Fein says. “Maybe they want to pay for their employees to be re-skilled. We need credentials that people understand, credentials that show value and signal knowledge.”
That need to demonstrate what a degree or credential does is driving higher ed and industries to take a second look at what they’re offering students and employees. Some schools want to maintain their pedigree as traditional four-year institutions, while also being open to adopting new ideas.
There has to be a middle ground between the two ideals of what a college or university should be.
“People have a right to be a bit upset with the industry,” Fein says. “Maybe they got a degree in a particular area, and they couldn’t get a job. Now they have debt. It’s fair that they’re upset. If you chose to major in an area where there’s not as much of a job market, in the same way, higher education has not done a good job connecting the dots between corporate or government partnerships.”
The blame lies not with students but with the institutions themselves. The key, Fein says, is in understanding how micro-credentials will fit into what already exists.
Continuing education units are probably the top exemplars of how micro-credentials can be implemented into the traditional academic framework.
“I’ve been fortunate to work at two major research universities, Illinois and the University of North Texas, where the CE division is more integrated,” Fein says. “It has to start with a partnership. I can’t do my job without the provost or registrar, and they can’t do it without us.”
Working between faculties is not an easy initiative; it requires experts in multiple fields coming together and developing something greater than the sum of their parts. But the end result means a more accessible education for students and a more educated workforce for employers.
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Last updated: September 2, 2022