There are many forces that are changing higher education today. Non-traditional students are becoming the norm. The majority of future jobs will require post-secondary education. Baby boomer retirements and current graduation rates are creating a future shortage of qualified workers. These are the stimuli that are creating disruption in higher education – changes in response to business and economic needs.
A great disruption to higher education has been competency-based education. The value for employers and employee learners is indisputable. Businesses can identify the gaps they need to fill to maintain a competitive workforce. Training their workers is an investment that will give a return in terms of individuals who will fill business needs and contribute to economic growth.
With CBE the path to a degree can be as unique as the individual learner. There is no need to follow a traditional schedule with online education. When an individual demonstrates competency in a subject, s/he doesn’t need to spend time in a classroom. When an individual needs additional time to acquire skills or knowledge, s/he moves at a slower pace. This disruption saves time and money in pursuing higher education.
The value of CBE for businesses is in the ability to fill specific needs in their workforce in a timely manner. Dr. Michelle R. Weise, Senior Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, specializes in disruptive innovation in higher education. She says CBE serves as a missing link between learning outcomes and industry needs. “A true workforce solution, competency-based education has the potential to bridge the widening gap between traditional post-secondary education and the workforce… It fuses mastery-based learning with modularization, leading to pathways that are more agile and more adaptable to the changing labor market.” (http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/got-skills-why-online-competency-based-education-disruptive-innovation-higher-education)
Cost-effective options are a disruption that has created new choices for consumers of higher education. Three examples illustrate how this disruption can create value for learners and for businesses who offer tuition benefits. Southern New Hampshire University College for America offers a bachelor’s degree for $10,000. Georgia Tech, along with MOOC creator Udacity, offers a master’s degree for $7,000. StraighterLine is not a college or university, but its program allows students to take reduced-rate classes that will transfer to participating colleges and universities. An affordable approach to higher education opens the doors for both business and employee development.
Another disruption to higher education is “microdegrees” which allow learners to quickly gain skills. Coursera, an education company that collaboratively designs online courses such as MOOCS with top universities and organizations, recently launched a series of microdegrees. Coursera calls these Course Specializations. Companies partner with Coursera to develop sequences of related courses in topics, and academic partners develop capstone hands-on projects. Students take a series of MOOCs and then finish with a project to demonstrate knowledge they have acquired. Nineteen well-known universities such as Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, and University of California are participating in this venture. (https://www.coursera.org/specializations)
While microdegrees don’t apply towards a degree, their value to businesses is that they can provide immediate solutions for filling a skills gap in their workforce. They are equally valuable to the employees who are looking for ways to enhance or update their skills. For many employees who have some college but no degree, this may be the entry point to completing a degree. As credentials like this become more recognized and accepted, these may become a way to “bridge the gap” between higher education and industry, says Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera. (http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/meet-the-new-self-appointed-mooc-accreditors-google-and-instagram/55807)
This disruption is also seen in a similar format of “nanodegrees” developed by Udacity. Education that delivers skills and knowledge, even though it isn’t part of a formal degree, could be the beginning of radical change says Stuart M. Butler, Senior Fellow Economic Studies at the Brooking Institute. “This disruption will force top-to-bottom changes in the very concept of higher education and its relationship with the broader economy.” (http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2014/08/tottering-ivory-towers-butler)
The relationship between higher education and the economy is visible. The number of non-traditional students continues to grow as does the need for more workers with post-secondary education. Disruption in higher education creates opportunities for both learners and business to meet educational goals.
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