Degree vs. Skills-Based Learning: Positioning Your Programs

Higher education is an increasingly important part of our economy, requiring highly skilled graduates in many fields. Colleges, universities, and trade schools contribute to the productivity of our country by training people in the skills that 21st-century employers require. Yet education is not just job training for most students, and we shouldn’t overlook the importance of a well-rounded citizenry with critical thinking and other “soft skills” that schools can foster.

For higher education, the “skills vs. degree” debate can seem like an argument against formal education. But it doesn’t need to be. Instead, let’s look at how to position your higher education institution to emphasize the marketable skills and valuable degrees you deliver.

Do College Degrees Matter?

Many jobs can be performed well by people without a college degree, yet traditional hiring practices have ranked applicants with degrees higher. To make hiring more realistic and fair, more employers are dropping the requirement for a college degree in favor of looking at capabilities when evaluating potential hires. In many ways, this can be a good thing because it offers opportunities to people who have not yet completed higher education.

Yet the economic benefits of further education are well-researched, and across the world, each additional year of education is associated with a 9% increase in earnings. Education is one of the surest ways to attain a better salary. Higher education levels also correlate with lower unemployment levels, which is one more reason to get a degree at some point in life. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be right after high school.

Not all college degrees are equal in their earning power, and many profitable careers do not require a college degree. However, with a trend toward more people turning to education after entering the workplace, continuing to a degree is an excellent way for many to train for higher-paying jobs and advance their careers. Even though a degree is not required for all positions, finishing college is a way to increase future work options.

Job Training Embedded Within College Programs

Some of the debate around skills vs. college suggests that on-the-job training can be more valuable than courses alone. Yet many college programs already encourage or even require internship or practicum experiences as part of the education. The combination of instruction, assessment, and real-world experience can be more valuable than learning basic skills in an office. Moreover, the job experience within college programs leads to employment opportunities in positions with better pay and more job satisfaction. Even in professions where the salary is not astronomical—like teaching, social work, or other helping professions—the sense of doing something valuable for people can provide a more fulfilling career than basic workplace training in a particular business.

The In-Demand Skill of a Learning Mindset

Employers are increasingly looking for hires with the curiosity and temperament to learn new skills. With the acceleration of change and technological advancement in all industries, everyone needs to continue to learn new skills throughout their careers. For those who don’t naturally come to a learning orientation, higher education can be a place to cultivate that capability, which will be invaluable in any career. Practicing study skills that lead to a lifelong learning orientation is one of the benefits of higher education.

Certificate Programs as Integral Parts of Degrees

You can acquire workplace skills in certificate programs or other alternative means. Yet, the lifelong value of having a degree in addition to specific skill sets can make a degree more beneficial overall. Many programs, especially graduate programs, embed certificates in their degree programs, allowing people to take the certificate whether or not they need or want to continue to complete the degree. These programs can add value to a department or institution while still promoting the degree program itself.

Tech Industry Training is Not College

Popular programs that provide computer science and other technical training can increase the number and diversity of applicants to tech jobs. But these programs alone, without a well-rounded degree program, do not necessarily provide the lifelong options that having a degree can confer. In the world’s advanced economies, workers need not just coding skills but also communication, writing, and critical thinking skills. Tech bootcamps may cover some of those competencies, but a degree creates many more job possibilities and directions to a career.

How About Degree and Skills

As more nontraditional students enroll in colleges, the idea that one doesn’t need to go straight from high school to college becomes more established. With increasing flexibility in higher education institutions that allow more working students to matriculate, gaining a degree may be a longer, slower road for some. And yet, the degree, along with needed job skills, will be the most beneficial to individuals. Learning to think, learning to learn, and experiencing the wider world of ideas are advantages of higher education.

Our goal as educators is to increase access to higher education. We want more people to have access to college degrees, not fewer. And while some skills-based programs have always had a special place in higher education, we can continue to promote skills and degree programs. Of course, skills are useful on a job, but staying in school to complete a degree shows a learning mindset and devotion to achievement that can boost lifetime earnings and career mobility and promote a more rewarding life.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your institution level up its digital marketing strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you adapt to the evolving education marketing landscape and ramp up your efforts, please contact us today.

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