Emerging Models of Education and Career Preparation

It is no longer enough to get a college degree and move immediately into a good paying job. New models of education are providing graduates with a new set of skills they require to navigate into secure and meaningful careers.

It used to be that going to college, working in your family business, or joining the service were your three options after high school, and a college degree meant a ticket to the middle class.Today, many are questioning the value of a college degree relative to the cost, and enrollment is in decline.

A new report asserts that “requiring a degree as a condition of employment restricts the size of the labor pool, limiting employers’ access to talent and resulting in workforces that aren’t racially and ethnically diverse.” The research was commissioned by American Student Assistance (ASA) and Jobs for the Future (JFF) and conducted by Morning Consult earlier this year. While a college degree used to be the most important requirement for a good job, now 81% of employers in this poll believe that organizations should hire based on skills instead of degrees.

College degrees have not necessarily meant equitable access to opportunities. Women outnumber men on campuses and still experience significant wage gaps in the workforce. The costs for a four-year-degree are a barrier to entry for many students. And the college degree as the critical credential for a good job is changing because of an acute shortage of skilled workers. Researchers at Burning Glass Institute found that the share of job postings requiring four-year degrees dropped from 51% in 2017 to 44% in 2021.

The acceleration of technology has increased pressure on traditional four-year degrees and education to career pathways to keep pace with the market’s demand for new skills. Even Fortune 50 companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and IBM are no longer requiring a degree for jobs that can be done with some postsecondary training and skill development.

Emerging hybrid models of education

While the researchers looked for programs that weren’t the typical four-year degree, they did include programs offered by colleges and universities that combine work experience and training—also opportunities to acquire a degree at an accelerated pace.

One of the foundational models the report examines is dual enrollment and early college. These programs offer students college credit and a chance to enter the job market earlier than if they went to college for four years. While dual enrollment is usually only open to high school juniors and seniors, the early college model can start as early as freshman year. Depending on how each program is structured, students can attain a combination of high school diploma, college associate degree, certification, and perhaps an apprenticeship. JFF has worked with a number of these programs to expand the network of available to students.

Internships are often tied to secondary or postsecondary program of study and supervised by an employer for a specified period of time. The internships can be either paid or unpaid but result in increased work experiences, specific skills, and employability.

Online courses and certificate programs are available from some well-known institutions, such as MIT and available through platforms, such as Coursera, Udacity, or edX.

Work colleges, such as Paul Quinn College in Dallas offer a four-year degree with a work-learning-service program for all four years of enrollment. This approach combining a degree and significant work experiences are proof that higher education institutions are thinking creatively about increasing the practical value of a college degree.

There are students who will choose an alternative to a traditional college degree. But there are opportunities for colleges and universities to increase the value of their programs by expanding their offerings to include new combinations of education, practical experience, and skills training. Read more at A Universe of Possibilities: Education to Career Pathways for the Future of Work.