Professional Education Needs to Formalize a New PlatformDavid Hofmeister | Dean of the Graduate School and College of Adult and Professional Studies, Friends University
Career goals and job opportunities maintain a murky relationship for many adults who participate in the education-to-employment ecosystem. While improved employment opportunities can be realized with an academic degree, the degree itself is a not a guaranteed means to an end. Tightening the relationship between education, especially professional education to career opportunities, will bring clarity and transparency between what is studied and careers. To accomplish this, a new platform needs to be built into the education-to-employment ecosystem.
While some professions have a clear path to aspire and achieve a career goal such as education, health care, engineering, and fields where certifications and licensures exist, most professions lack specifics other than earning a degree. This will change in response to the rapidly changing demands for talent needed by employers.
For example, a CEO of a rural hospital recently requested a bachelor’s program in medical translation be offered in a very diverse part of Kansas. While the degree offers the knowledge and skills needed, there is an alternative approach. A bilingual speaker could obtain a medical interpreter certificate after completing high school or equivalent education and serve in an interpreter position after 40 hours of course work. Clearly, the knowledge and skills are different between the two approaches. However, at the time of this writing, there were nearly 3,000 medical interpreter positions listed on Indeed.com. Filling those positions rapidly is an opportunity for higher education through professional education.
One of the obstacles in the growth of professional education is employment opportunities presented with educational requirements noted as an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in a specific or related field of study. This expectation of a degree to obtain employment is entrenched. Employers must re-think how jobs are posted. Getting beyond general language and targeting knowledge and skills can accelerate growth in professional education. Two gains can occur. Employers that provide a deeper dive and articulate the professional skills and knowledge needed for a professional position can hire specific rather than general talent. The second is for employers to explain the paths for promotion and skills and knowledge needed. Those without degrees will come with certifications, badges and various micro-credentials validating their knowledge and skills. Will employers re-think how employment opportunities are presented? Digital technologies are setting the stage for this to occur.
Venkatraman (2017) notes there is an inflection point where old definitions of industry do not make much sense and new ways to create value fashioned with digital technologies are not yet defined. He writes of four stages of development in digital technology: product + service + platform + ecosystem. The industrial age for higher education has been a product, a degree. MOOCs and other professional education providers have pushed the frontier with product + service. The next step is to develop a platform. The platform needed is an explicit articulation between the talent needs of employers and education providers.
A brief example illustrates the need to develop the platform for professional education. In this example, the significant demand for software developers is highlighted through four educational approaches.
One approach is the bachelor’s degree in computer science. This takes four to five years to obtain and the return on investment is about three to four years of employment as a programmer. The degree holder provides an employer theory and practice in programming.
Another path for software development is a coding bootcamp. This approach is four to ten months of intensive experiences learning how to write code. The tuition is less than $20K. A return on investment is realized in full well within one year of successful employment. This approach accomplishes a practiced coder in a language. Some employers are reluctant to hire these graduates.
A third approach is for higher education to package a series of courses and offer them in a non-degree-bearing program of study. If a bootcamp is roughly equivalent to a minor in programming, then this learning package could emulate the academic program at a packaged price. It could fit adult students’ part time learning expectations and be less than the boot camp’s price point. This approach accomplishes a practiced coder in a language.
A fourth approach is with MOOCs. While the price point through a MOOC is much lower, the verifiable qualitative outcomes are less apparent. One site indicates a patchwork of courses to accomplish the computer science background needed. If the courses are taken one at a time, they will require three or more years of ongoing study. While not as expensive, the time to completion is essentially the bachelor’s in computer science degree without all the math and no general education coursework.
Which approach in preparing talent creates an opportunity for higher education? Universities whose footprint is largely in regional markets are experiencing more and more competition from national providers, fewer students, and adults who are employed and do not want to invest in obtaining a degree. Even though there may be less interest in a degree during economically stable employment, adults do need professional education opportunities to enhance their employability and career options. Packaging existing courses into non-degree-bearing specializations could provide the impetus to grow programs through traditional delivery systems or experiment with digital technologies. Venkatraman (2017) refers to experimentation at the edge as a beginning point of digital transformation.
Building a professional education platform with employers provides learners with sufficient clarity, transparency and intentionality between the talent employers need and what educational providers offer. This approach would align education with regional employment opportunities, tightening the education-to-employment ecosystem.
Given the digital technology horizon, small universities and colleges need to build into this space through partnerships with employers. If not, the regional opportunities could be lost to global providers who establish the platform and then their ecosystem.
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Venkatraman, V. (2017). The digital matrix: New rules for business transformation through technology. Lifetree Media Ltd.
Author Perspective: Administrator