Upskilling: The Next Revolution in Higher Education

In the business world, we’re navigating an acceleration in digital innovation, and that same trend is taking shape for our universities. New approaches and technologies rapidly rise to prominence and disrupt entire industries seemingly overnight. Organizations that both leverage and stay ahead of these shifts — the Amazons and Apples of the world — are the ones who become household names.

On the other hand, organizations across all sectors have a shortening amount of time to become successful. As former Cisco CEO John Chambers said at the 2020 HPE Discover Conference, 40% to 50% of the Fortune 500 will go extinct within the next decade due to disruptions caused by digital technology.

With the continued growth of online learning and the educational technology market, the same disruptions that challenge businesses to continually innovate will impact higher education with the same force.


Digital Innovation Takes the Education Sector by Storm

Online education did more than just change how and where students learn, it shaped the way that colleges teach. And with hybrid and virtual education accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid digital innovation is certain to follow.

In the same way that online learning revolutionized education by making courses accessible from anywhere, the growing market for micro-credentials and alternative education options will transform how we think of learning and how academic programs are structured. Today, students are more connected, have access to more information and have more possible paths to education and career advancement.

As a result, the demand for upskilling education programs has never been higher.


What Is Upskilling?

In a business context, upskilling refers to how we teach employees new skills. When we talk about upskilling at All Campus, we’re thinking about the bigger picture. On a large scale, upskilling refers to students and employees putting heightened emphasis on rapid career and practical skill development.

In the 2021 Emeritus Global Consumer Sentiment Survey, career advancement, such as earning a raise or promotion, became the top motivation for pursuing education, coming ahead of factors like job safety, which was the top motivation in 2020. This is just one of multiple studies that show the potential opportunities presented by upskilling.


Why Universities Need to Embrace Upskilling

Just as online learning made it possible to go to school from anywhere, the growing market for graduate, non-credit and professional certificate programs will push flexibility even further.

For students, shorter non-credit courses and certificate programs provide more opportunities to develop skills and advance their knowledge in smaller blocks of time and lower cost.

Certificate programs also give universities a way to keep alumni engaged as active participants in their learning community, as well as support for other kinds of lifelong learners.

For universities, offering online certificate programs dramatically expands the number of students they can serve. Although great strides have been made to make quality education accessible across the country, bachelor’s degrees remain unattainable for a large share of the population. According to Strada Education, 65% of the U.S. workforce does not have a four-year degree and, as more people question the value of degree programs in general, micro-credentials and other alternative education options are bound to generate long-term momentum.

Micro-credentials also fill a broad range of other needs:

  • Bite-sized learning after graduation: Certificates can supplement knowledge from a degree program, making them attractive for people who have already completed an undergraduate or graduate program.
  • Support for stackable degree programs: Universities are starting to experiment with alternative program structures that leverage certificate programs as a way to give their students more choice in their course load. For example, a student may be able to earn a business degree by completing a set of business, marketing and finance certificate programs.
  • More affordable education: The cost of education rose roughly 59% between 2000 and 2020, while inflation-adjusted median wages only rose 5%. Lower-cost certificate programs provide education access to large segments of the population who can’t spend the time or money on an undergraduate or graduate degree.
  • More accessible education: Online certificates with shorter time commitments make it easier for students to complete their education in smaller chunks of time and exercise more granular control over what courses they take. For neurodivergent and disabled students, this can mean all the difference between completing all their academic goals and having to drop out of school to address mental health or medical issues.
  • Career exploration: Few people are certain of what they want to do with their lives at the start of their education journey. While not everyone will be interested in pursuing a degree, many will use certificates to explore their passions and decide whether to continue their education from there.
  • Universities become more resilient: Schools don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create an exceptional certificate program. They can use existing courses and curricula as a foundation to efficiently and cost effectively build programs that meet market demand. By offering a varied mix of programs, schools can ensure they continue serving students even during economic downturns and other disruptions.

The growth of upskilling will lead to drastic increases in competition across all areas of education, especially as platforms like Google and LinkedIn invest more into their professional certificate offerings. However, universities aren’t starting from scratch. As noted above, they can draw on their existing content and expertise to create certificate offerings that rival or surpass the quality of professional options in the market.

To take advantage of upskilling’s potential, it will be important to rethink what formal education looks like. With more options available, students will be able to chart their own path to learning in a profoundly unprecedented way — with more granular control over what topics they study, which credentials they earn and the time they take to finish. In other words, flexible and varied program offerings will become increasingly important differentiating factors as prospects are deciding where to study.


Partner With All Campus to Get a Head Start in Upskilling

Our upskilling program design services start with the same collaborative approach that defines every All Campus partnership. We leverage our research, analytical insights and field-tested processes to help you optimize and grow your program with data-inspired market insights behind every decision.

Looking for expert advice to decide what’s next for your program? Contact us to learn more about upskilling and how we can help you expand your program portfolio.

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