To effectively shape higher education we must address the need of current and prospective students and American people as President Peter Cohen rightly suggested in his recent LinkedIn article. The University of Phoenix Study indicated that majority of working adults are driven to pursue higher education to increase their earning (87%), obtain potentials (87%), or get a better job (85%). Additionally, a study by Pew Research Center with 5006 U.S. adults (including 3096 employed adults) conducted in 2016 revealed similar results that 50% believed that higher education should teach job-related skills while 35% said that it should help individual personal and intellectual growths. Interestingly, only 16% of the participants believed that a four-year college degree properly prepare students for a well-paying job in today economy. Such a low perception about graduated students’ job preparation underscores the need for reforming higher education programs and curricula to better equip the learners with the required skills for the job market. The crucial questions are (a) what type of skills and trainings are useful for the current and future job market, (b) what the demanding jobs are for today and future economy, and (c) what the demographics of the labor force are for today and future economy.
According to 2016 Pew Research Center report about “The State of American Jobs”, 87% of jobholders believe that employment is much higher among jobs that require (a) higher than average job preparations (that is more education, trainings, and experience in the job), (b) higher than average interpersonal, management, and communication skills, and (c) higher levels of analytical skills such as critical thinking and computer skills. Furthermore, the report indicated that the nature of jobs is changing as the society transits from industrial economy to 21st century knowledge-based, service oriented economy. The top four sectors leading the U.S. economy from 1990 to 2015 with highest employment growth rate were educational services (105%), health care and social assistance (99%), professional and business services (81%), and leisure and hospitality (63%). While overall employment (non-farm) increased 30% during this period.
Interestingly, the employment projection report by Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2014-2024 provided similar and additional revelations about the future of job market. The report indicated that healthcare and service oriented sectors are expected to have the fastest employment growth. Additionally, the report provided some insights about the demographics of the future labor force. Labor force diversity is projected to increase with white non-Hispanic making up 59.6% of labor force as compared with 64.6% in 2014. The labor force continues to age with median age of 37.7 in 1994, 41.9 in 2014, and 42.4 in 2024.
The implications of learning about the demanding skills, jobs, and workforce demographics for effectively reforming higher education are to:
· Focus on developing learners’ soft and technical skills including social, communication (verbal and written), analytical (critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making), interpersonal, management, and computer skills.
· Provide programs that better prepare leaners in knowledge-based service oriented sectors.
· Provide ongoing trainings. The Pew survey indicated U.S. working adults believe that they need ongoing trainings to stay updated with the latest skills in their fields. The perceived need increases with higher educational degrees.
· Revise the programs and instructions in a way that accommodate and support learners’ diversity and age.
To make higher education more influential and relevant to our society and learners, we need to have a dynamic higher education that welcomes the reforms to better serve and prepare the students for ever-changing society, economy, and job market.
What are your thoughts?