The value of education is a hotly debated topic today. Cost, student debt, and graduation rates are factors that contribute to the debate, along with political views, demographics, and education outcomes. Whichever of these factors exerts the strongest influence, and whatever the perceived value of education, there is no doubt that higher education is vital today.
Innovation and technology are changing how industry produces goods, how businesses operate and what skills workers need to have. Innovation quickly changes the demand for specific skills, causing some people to think that higher education doesn’t deliver what students or businesses need. However, this actually creates an environment where business and education programs can be complementary and increase the value of education.
Strada Education report Changing the Value Equation in Higher Education says that education consumers see the greatest value in education when they see its connection to their career. “When education consumers believe they are provided high-quality, applied learning experiences and excellent career and academic advising, their assessment of value increases regardless of their program of study.” When people see a connection between their career and education they are more likely to strongly agree that their education is worth the cost and that it makes them a better job candidate.
Students see the value of education when their courses are relevant to their jobs and teach them skills they need. They see value of education when they increase their competency and have opportunities to apply what they are learning. Businesses can help increase the value of education when they encourage employees to apply their new skills and knowledge on tasks at work. Giving employees the opportunities to apply what they are learning in their real work environment reinforces what students are learning. A clear education and career path also is important. Employers who have transparent career development paths increase the value of education for all their employees who seek higher education. Employees can see what skills they need to develop, take relevant courses and employers will benefit from employees who are prepared.
The connection between education and career creates the value of education for those who complete their education, at any level.
Students who completed nondegree programs such as a certificate and graduate degrees place an especially high value on education. Career relevance is a major factor for students at these levels. Students who complete a certificate or other credential learn specific skills they can apply directly to their work, whether they earn the certificate pre-or post-degree. Graduate degrees generally add skills and knowledge that move people forward in their careers. In both these cases the relevance to people’s careers increases the importance and value of education.
Employer tuition assistance programs enhance the value of education for students. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report “Working Learners” states, “Working and learning simultaneously has benefits, especially when students work in jobs related to what they study.” In these circumstances, work opportunities and course work complement each other, especially when employees are following a career path outlined by their employer. Students are able to acquire specific skills and knowledge and apply them to their job at the same time. “A job is more powerful as an educational tool when it provides exploratory learning that supplements or complements a student’s field of study. This is crucial in graduate education, where fields of study are most tightly tied to careers.”
With the time and financial commitment students make in their education, it is important for them to see the relevance of their course work to their careers. That relevance increases their perception of the value of their education, no matter what field they are studying, states the Strada report. The strategic application of employer education benefits and career development plans will enhance the education-career connection. “When respondents saw job relevance in their coursework, regardless of their major, the value they saw in the cost of their degree (66% strongly agreed) and in helping their career (80% strongly agreed) increased significantly. This makes clear that education consumers see value as more than just completing a degree. They are looking for completion with a purpose.”
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