Report: Universities Helping Workers and Students Improve Their Skills

Andréa Rodriguez, one of the collaborators of the report and director of the Coalition of Urban Serving UniversitiesA new report from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) highlights the need for higher education to develop more flexible pathways for students to graduate or a diploma and for community members to acquire vocational training as lifelong learners. The report also says university programs are already reinventing how to meet these urgent needs.

“The pandemic has really forced higher education to rethink the barriers or challenges that exist in the institution,” said Andréa Rodriguez, one of the report’s contributors and director of USU, an organization led by the president. 40 public urban research universities. “The report shows how institutions are now responding to labor demands through collaboration and partnerships. And listen to the experiences of the students.

Entitled “Building a Future Workforce for All Learners,” the report examines three trends that are changing the landscape of higher education: a rapidly changing economy creating new training needs for workers; changing student demographics as older, non-traditional students with previous work experience become more common; and the growing demand from employers for ’21st century skills’, such as data analytics.

“The failure of higher education may be to do things on its own, but given how much the pandemic has changed, universities also need to change their approach to their work,” Rodriguez said. “We hope that university leaders will see from this report how partnerships could create more opportunities for learners to develop new skills or to improve themselves. No one has to do it alone.

APLU, a research, policy and advocacy organization for public and land universities, has partnered with USU to launch a learning community in 2022 for universities to explore other avenues of learning. . Part of the goal is to help answer the questions addressed in the report.

“The big questions we’re hearing in universities right now are about micro-accreditations,” Rodriguez said. “If you have someone with ten or more years of experience and a high school diploma, maybe certificates, but not a bachelor’s degree, what can the university do to provide some kind of a pathway for that learner. not to take four to six years to graduate? Can we give credit to someone’s prior learning or work experience? What about military experience? These are the kinds of issues that people worry about.

Examples of the report’s programs addressing these issues include a micro-accreditation initiative at Florida International University (FIU). The initiative started about a year and a half ago. Learners, including current students and community members, can earn badges in skills such as financial literacy, thinking and communicating with data and artificial intelligence.

“The CRF is really focused on the transition from student to learner in a broader way,” said Dr Bridgette Cram, assistant vice president of academic and student affairs at the CRF. “The philosophy of micro-accreditation is to help learners validate the skills they have acquired when seeking this job. “

Because the CRF is a university serving cities, Cram added that it is particularly focused on helping learners in the community to develop or develop and fill gaps in the workforce. The FIU, for example, created a COVID-19 contract tracing badge for community members, which the report also highlighted.

“We serve as an anchor institution in our community,” Cram said. “This is a different approach to higher education, so building these relationships with the community and faculty can make the program more effective in meeting people’s needs. “

The APLU report highlighted another example of a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) initiative, which issues web digital badges to students who earn the Capital CoLAB Generalist Digital Tech Credential degree. Students in non-STEM degree programs can earn the degree by taking courses in disciplines that cover skills such as data science and cybersecurity.

“We hear the industry loud and clear,” said Dr. John Leonard, Executive Dean and Professor of the College of Engineering at VCU. “If I had a magic wand, every VCU graduate student would have a digital badge, regardless of their specialty, as it would show they have a minimum level of skill to get a job. It’s about helping people move up the economic ladder.

Going forward, Rodriguez will observe how universities can work together to find solutions in a rapidly changing economy with increasingly diverse student needs.

“And how can they scale up what they’ve already started? ” she said. “We know that higher education can traditionally start a program, but it can fizzle out in a year or two. So how can they continue, evolve and prosper? Does that mean partnering with more employers? I will be curious to see and learn how we can be better agents to better support them.

For Leonard, the expansion of alternative learning pathways in universities is inevitable.

“Ultimately, I think that many or all universities will need to consider how they will incorporate these type of badges or other initiatives into their curriculum,” Leonard said. “We are all trying to use what we have learned from COVID to provide more flexible opportunities for people. “

Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected]

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