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Degrees Create Labor Market Competitiveness

Degrees Create Labor Market Competitiveness
Achieving the degree completion targets are going to take coordinated efforts from institutions, employers, government bodies and larger associations.
The following interview is with Teresa Clark, director of new program research and design at Lipscombe University. Clark has been instrumental in creating new and innovative adult degree programs designed to help non-traditional students earn postsecondary credentials and succeed in the labor market. In this Q&A she shares her thoughts on the value of four-year degrees to adults who are looking to change industries or advance their careers and discusses the importance of subject matter in choosing an area of study.

1. What are the most significant roadblocks adults face today as they search for new employment, or work to advance in their careers?

Adults today face many challenges when searching for new employment and seeking to advance their careers, and higher education helps them resolve roadblocks in both of those scenarios. One issue many adult students face is not possessing a bachelor’s degree in a market that continues to require postsecondary education in most career fields. This limits their ability to compete with new college graduates when seeking a new job and hinders their ability to attain promotion because often that next organizational level requires at least a bachelor’s degree, which one of their colleagues may already possess and receive the promotion instead.

2. How can earning a degree help to alleviate these challenges?

Because so many growing, high-demand fields now require at least a bachelor’s degree, and in many cases not enough qualified workers exist to fill these openings, earning a degree can really give adults an edge in the application and promotion process. It validates the many years of experience that adults in professional careers possess and, ultimately, it is that credential that can may times be a required starting point for moving forward in the application process. It sets up adults for success and levels the playing field in hiring and promotion.

3. Is finding work or advancing simply a matter of earning a degree or does the subject matter play a role?

Anecdotally, throughout my past seven years working with adult students, some have needed a specific degree because of their career goals. For example students wanting to go into teaching elementary school should most likely pursue the K-5 education track. However, I have also seen students who were not seeking a career change but simply needed a bachelor’s degree in some area for their current position. In addition, for students with varied interests, or who have an extensive amount of transfer work to apply, an integrated or liberal studies option is often best. In addition, some workers are in higher demand than others, so areas like education, IT and healthcare are usually good bets for employment. The decision of what to major in is best made between the student and his or her advisor in discussion about the student’s career goals and personal passion.

4. What responsibility do institutions have to ensure adults understand the importance of enrolling in a degree with tangible outcomes?

It is critically important to involve employers in discussions we have about new adult degree programs to add, as well as what competencies are desired of our graduates. It is important that higher education institutions incorporate business and industry in these conversations to make sure our students are best prepared for their employment, giving them the best chance for hire or promotion and meeting market and economic needs with qualified workers.

5. Do groups that push for a 60percent degree completion rate have a responsibility in guiding people toward degrees that will make them competitive in the labor market?

Our federal government, some state governments such as Tennessee, as well as foundations have set postsecondary credentialing goals for 2020 and 2025, usually around 60 percent. It is exciting for those of us passionate about higher education, particularly those of us working with adult students, that these entities have recognized the major benefits of education from a personal to a national level.

From what I have seen, these groups are taking measures to assist both higher education institutions and individual students to make education more accessible and affordable. I think there needs to be a healthy balance as to how much these agencies influence students in their choice of major and what the individual student feels called to do for a career that is rewarding financially and personally. What these groups are doing that is a big help to students is, in conjunction with colleges and universities, disseminating information about which fields workers are most needed along with creative pathways for certificate and degree completion, such as using prior learning assessment and competency-based education.

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