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Higher Education

Traditional Educational Pathways Have Already Been Disrupted

By Cait Etherington
October 10, 2018
Voiced by Amazon Polly

A new report published by researchers at Inside Higher Education with support from the Entangled Group, On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and work, suggests that traditional education has already been radically disrupted. While degrees will still matter in the future, the report concludes that we no longer live in a world dominated by “terminal degrees.” Whatever your educational background, in the future, there is a high chance that you will need to keep reskilling and upskilling throughout your career to survive and postsecondary institutions are currently exploring how to respond to this changing educational landscape.

Highlights from the Report

As stated in On-Ramps and Off-Ramps‘ executive summary, “The college degree remains the best ticket to a rewarding career and the middle class. But the traditional degree pathway is failing to meet the nation’s postsecondary education and training needs. As a result, a growing number of colleges are partnering with employers—or brokers who make those connections—and noncollege education providers to offer alternative credentials.” This happens when universities contract with coding academies such as Trilogy and General Assembly to offer coding certificates to their students either for credit, or as an add-on to a degree. Another example is the growing number of collaborations between MOOC providers, such as Coursera, and universities to offer not only courses but degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But partnerships with between non-profit universities and for-profit coding academies is just one example among many in the current educational landscape.

To drill down on what is really happening at the moment, Inside Higher Education and Entangled Group carried out interviews with more than 75 experts to explore a central question: Can colleges and nonaccredited education providers team up with employers to create viable forms of alternative credentials that will help more Americans get a first job or promotion or make a career change?

University Leaders Continue to Express Mixed Reactions on Training Programs

Not surprisingly, at least some leaders in higher education remain skeptical about the move to partner with private providers to offer on-demand and timely training to students. As emphasized by the report, many people working in higher education still believe that shifting focus to vocational training is not part of the university’s mandate. There are further concerns about an expanding credential system. But this doesn’t mean that the move to partner with outside providers to ensure students have the skills they need when they graduate and for years to come doesn’t have supporters at the college and university level.

As stated in On-Ramps and Off-Ramps, there is even a strong sense, among some supporters, that these new public-private partnerships might do something that higher education has yet to accomplish: make higher education more accessible to people regardless of their income, race, or gender. As the authors write, “Supporters say alternative credentials could chip away at barriers to the middle class. For example, they could help more prospective college students bypass the traditional degree to get a well-paying job. Ideally, the pathway also offers an affordable start on a college-level education, with less risk of failing to graduate or defaulting on loans, national crises that disproportionately affect black, Latino and low-income students.”

As a case in point, consider the MITx MicroMasters. The MITx program, which was launched last year, enables students to complete six MIT courses online in a MOOC. The total cost of the MITx MicroMasters is just over $1,000. Comparatively, completing the same courses on campus will cost approximately $70,000. More importantly, if a student completes all their courses successfully and passes the required exams, they can go on to complete a master’s degree on the MIT campus or, as recently announced, apply the credits towards a master’s degree offered at the Harvard Extension School. Students who opt to complete a master’s at Harvard rather than MIT have another advantage: The ability to earn a prestigious graduate degree without a residential requirement that may also result in lost wages if the leaner is already a working professional.

Featured Case Studies

On-Ramps and Off-Ramps focuses on a series of specific case studies or examples to explore how the need for life-long training, or what some people are now calling the 60-year Curriculum, is transforming higher education. Specific examples featured in the report fall into four categories. The first set of examples fall under “College Optional.” These are alternative pathways to careers, such as Google’s IT Certificate, which enables students to skip college altogether and start training for a career in IT. Second,  there are programs that fall into the “College à la Carte” category. These programs include alternative educational pathways, such as California’s new online community college. Third, the report examines what is described as “Add-Ons to the Degree,” such as Broward College’s embedded certifications. The final category focuses on alternative graduate credentials, including Georgia Tech’s graduate programs focused on the needs of lifelong learners.

More information about On-Ramps and Off-Ramps can be found here.