CaptureNotes: How is Higher Ed Responding to Rapid Changes in Professional Development?

Welcome back to CaptureNotes. It’s like Cliff’s Notes … or Sparknotes … but on all things higher education. In this installment, we present our notes taken while listening to the recent webinar Professional Development: Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education presented by Inside Higher Ed.

The Speakers

Scott Jaschik, Editor, Inside Higher Ed

Doug Lederman, Editor, Inside Higher Ed

Our economy is changing rapidly in the digital age. Professional credentials have shorter staying power causing people to shift constantly between the workforce and some kind of post-college training. To compete, people will be less interested in pursuing a degree and choose instead to advance their careers through the growing number of online options.

Obstacles For Higher Ed

• Colleges and universities do not have experience recruiting non-traditional, adult students.
• At many institutions, the degree is the be-all, end-all.
• Not all professional development programs are respected by employers —“just saying this is ‘professional development’ doesn’t cut it.”
• Federal Student Aid is built for the traditional degree-granting programs.
• There is growing competition with non-college competitors.
• The Trump Administration is focused on apprenticeships over higher education. Is there a risk that we are becoming too vocationally focused?

Digital Badges

Colleges are providing “digital badges” for competencies based on professional skills — hard skills like coding; soft skills like management.

They also are offering micro versions of a concentration to supplement certain degrees.

There are more and more attempts to break-up learning and annotate them. Mozillo, creator of the free web browser Firefox, has digital badges in their platform. But in what framework will these badges be assessed? There is skepticism over how fast these badges would replace and outplace current, more traditional training.

Is there a need for a “credential engine,” which would be a repository for digital badges?

Stackable Credentials

The idea of “stackable credentials” is gaining momentum. This is where a person may start at a sub-degree level and gradually “stack” their credentials up to a larger degree. Many people can’t take two years off of life for a new degree, but they can get credentials one at a time to build towards something larger.

MOOCs for Masters

Masters degrees remain dominant in graduate and professional development education. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are started to emerge for master’s programs — more for business in educational models than undergraduate education.

Institutions like MIT are developing “micro-masters” programs for students who are unable to take two years away from their job to pursue their masters. These programs are facilitated through MOOCs and usually have an on-campus component to finish.

Also, boot camps, the kind started in circles like coding academies, are offering short-term, high-immersion training for professionals.

MOOCs for Teachers

MOOCs show high potential and many challenges for teacher education. The teaching field has a long history in which teachers go back for masters or specialized training. Yet, some educational leaders are questioning the value of skills taught … and the value of paying for it.

Do those who pay directly or indirectly see the ROI on the investment of additional education?

Teaching Their Own

Universities are growing programs on their campuses that are geared for their own employees. Programs where they can:
• Learn how to teach
• Learn how to teach online
• Learn how to become an administrator

Who truly is an alumnus?

Colleges and universities are seeing a risk of a participant in a credential program claiming to be an alumnus of the school — people touting to be alumni but only went to one program.

What is a degree?

There is skepticism over some credentialed degrees. What does it stand for? What is the outcome? Do the skills taught add up to strategic thinking as an outcome? Universities are on the cusp of looking for a greater definition of what a student has learned to do.

Path Forward for Credentials

An important factor for the future of credentialing must be rigor. Make them difficult to earn. If you make badges too easy to earn, it takes away the value of other school’s badges.

When colleges and universities talk to people about professional education, they need to address their prospect’s professional goals. Good programs preach outcomes for careers — advancement and better jobs. This is important for both degree and non-degree programs.

By Amanda Scott, M.A.Ed., Senior Director, Capture Higher Ed