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Businesses Help Students Take College Shortcuts

In our book, Transforming for Turbulent Times, we predict the emergence of a radically altered Knowledge, Work, and Learning Ecosystem by 2030, as shown below. One key development we anticipate in the ecosystem is the entry of a number of new agile Learning and Certification Providers who will deliver learning experiences that are more student centered and much better attuned to their rapidly changing learning needs.

Knowledge, Work, and Learning Ecosystem

In this emerging ecosystem, employers will be desperate to attract and retain top talent, using on-going training and talent development as an incentive. To do this, employers will forge external partnerships for in-house learning. They will also collaborate with high schools and colleges to accelerate “last mile” transitions from learning to employment.

Learning and Certification Providers will also transform. Affordable on-line providers, laser focused on the needs of the learners they serve, will both grow and scale their offerings dramatically. There will also be a number of so-called “Free-Range” learning providers such as CAEL, StraighterLine, General Assembly, Innovate+Educate, Degreed, Credly, HelioCampus, Credentials As You Go, and Portfolium to serve learners’ needs. Many will actively seek “last mile” and other placement partnerships with employers. Moreover, some of these learning providers will also curate content and specialty offerings like student success services.

In this context, we read with interest a recent Hechinger Report entitled, “Impatient for workers, businesses help students take college shortcuts” (Burke, July 29, 2022). The Report sees these developments “as part of an accelerating movement of noncredit, short-term training programs, not just in technology, but in many fields for which students are impatient for jobs and employers for workers who want to leapfrog their way to careers — and do it without necessarily spending the years and money it takes to earn a university degree.”

The Report indicates that State and federal agencies are also joining the trend. Connecticut’s Office of Workforce Strategy, for example, is investing $70 million of its American Rescue Plan money to offer grants for short-term industry-recognized credential programs in fields including manufacturing, health care and IT to people who need, or want, to change jobs.

The agency would also like to see more companies get involved in training opportunities according to Niall Dammando, the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy’s chief of staff. It’s in the State’s interest to push for more training alternatives like these, he said.

Interest in non degree programs has also increased since before the pandemic. Among adults who are considering further education, since 2019, the proportion who say they want non degree training is up by 12 to 26 percent, while the proportion who say they’re interested in bachelor’s, associate, masters or doctoral degrees is down by 8 to 29 percent, according to a survey by Eduventures.

Experts say that faster-paced, less-expensive training programs are booming in part because the cost of college and the time it takes to earn degrees are weighing on potential students, especially at a time when businesses are desperate for workers. Nearly one-third of teenagers now say they would prefer their postsecondary education to last two years or less, according to a survey by the ECMC Group. More than half are open to something other than a four-year degree.

It should not be a surprise then that college and university enrollment has dropped by close to 8 percent since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That includes students older than the traditional 18- to 22-year-olds, many of whom are even more likely to prefer fast-paced training to longer-term certificate and degree programs.

Many observers are now saying that the push over the last few decades to get everyone to go to college may have been flawed. Although college degrees pay off, on average, with lifetime earnings for a bachelor’s degree-holder about 84 percent higher than those for workers with just high school diplomas, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, not everyone can get into, afford, or succeed in college.


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