This content was previously published by Campus Labs, now part of Anthology. Product and/or solution names may have changed.
It’s a turbulent time in higher education. Many colleges and universities are challenged with responding to operational questions related to rising tuition costs, fulfillment of accreditation standards, or plans for innovating with teaching and learning; however, there are other fundamental questions on which these institutions should be focusing:
- How are we addressing the needs of different generations of learners enrolled in our programs?
- Is there a gap between our offerings and the career competencies employers expect?
- How are we using data about skill achievement to help learners of all types better articulate the value of their college experience and see the importance of life-long learning?
Digital badging or credentialing is one rapidly growing technological example of how institutions can address the needs and expectations of different learner types while also bridging the skills gap and empowering learners with their own data.
Different Generational Expectations of Higher Education
In studies of generational theory, members of “Generation X” (born between ~1965 and ~1980) are characterized as, among other things, pragmatic. Many past learners of this generation likely saw college as a foregone conclusion to establishing future success on a career path. Institutions often didn’t have to work hard to get these students enrolled—they had to work to keep them engaged.
A shift began when “Generation Y” (also called “Millenials”, born between ~1980 and ~1990) came along, signifying expectations of being engaged and specific aspirations related to job attainment. Costs in U.S. higher education increased between these two generations, to an extent that both Gen X’ers and Millenials are cited as having more college debt than any generation before or even the most recent generation since.i
This latest generation, known as “Generation Z” (or by some as “Generation Edge”, born between ~1995 and ~2010), represents one fourth—and trending upward—of the global population.ii Among other things, they are more attuned to a world driven by 24/7 information access, award-based motivation, and a strong desire to avoid college debt.
Each generation, particularly inclusive of the last three, represents both challenges and opportunities for higher education.
- Challenge: Represent a significant portion of the U.S. workforceiii and are increasingly re-enrolling in degree or educational programs.iv
- Opportunity: Increase enrollment in programs that allow post-traditional learners to reskill or upskill in order to advance their careers.
- Challenge: Concerned with college debt and focused on job attainment to ensure a pathway to paying off that debt.
- Opportunity: Align competency and skill attainment to both curricular and co-curricular experiences in order to clearly show the value of the college experience.
- Challenge: Wish to avoid debt entirely and seek alternative pathways to education and skill development.
- Opportunity: Meet these learners’ needs by recognizing both learning and skill achievement in all contexts, inclusive of concerns for recognizing prior learning, providing reward-based motivation, and career readiness.
The Skills Gap
The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) annual Job Outlook survey results show us that skills related to written communication, problem-solving, and teamwork are among the most commonly desired attributes employers want when hiring new employees. Internships or other work experience, selected majors, or leadership/involvement in co-curricular organizations are also recurring attributes that influence hiring decisions for new graduates.
There is a troubling set of information to be found among these results, however. Though some have questioned the validity or existence of a skills gap,v the data from NACE’s reports have often shown gaps between what employers think are the essential career readiness competencies (e.g., critical thinking/problem-solving, teamwork/collaboration, professionalism/work ethic, etc.) and the actual proficiency levels these employers assign to recently hired college graduates.
Even in acknowledging that these employer responses are indirect measures outlining the shape of a possible skills gap, we must recognize that institutions can do more to ensure their curricular and co-curricular offerings are preparing learners of all types and generations with the skills they need—whether for each learner’s first job or the continued progression of their existing career.
A Solution for Skills and Achievement
At Campus Labs we often talk to our member campuses about challenges like those mentioned above related to supporting an increasingly diverse set of learners and focusing specifically on their skill and competency development in order to ensure job attainment or career progression. To help our member campuses tackle these challenges, we created a brand-new skills and achievement solution including our new platform called Milestone.
Despite the power of our other products—which enable our institutions to reduce their effort, experience data in new ways, and unlock the potential of insight-driven decision making—institutions need a tool specifically designed to do several things:
- Motivate and guide learners
- Assess their competencies
- Empower them to see the value of their educational experiences pertaining to skill development.
This last ability is particularly important because without the ability to articulate the skills they’ve received from their training, coursework, and experiences, the learners of today—regardless of their generation—must still articulate their value for current or prospective employers.
Institutions and learning organizations need to evolve their existing efforts and realize greater opportunity without adding more work. Institutions already do a lot of work translating how everything from degree programs to co-curricular events to alumni services help prepare students for a career after their degree or certification. Institutions don’t need to add more programs or services as part of their efforts to develop learner competencies. Rather, what institutions and learning organizations need are expanded abilities to engage and motivate learners while simultaneously guiding their skill progression.
Who Benefits from Harnessing the Power of Skills and Achievement Data?
Digital badges and credentials are some of the great tools we have created in Milestone for engaging and guiding learner skill progression. They allow institutions to create scaffolds or guided pathways in and around learning and motivate learners by visualizing incremental progress along the way. The key for any new product is to ensure it creates robust data experiences that lead to value for all parties—faculty, staff, and learners alike.
The goal is to also ensure we are helping all learners to more effectively bridge the skills gap. As alluded to before, learners of all ages and from all walks of life need tools to reflect on, articulate, and showcase their abilities when pursuing personal or professional opportunities.
Institutions capture a tremendous amount of data about their learners—are learners themselves ever the beneficiary of all this data? In many ways, they are often left to the wayside when it comes to seeing the holistic picture institutions could theorize about them, their experience over a learning journey, or the alignment of their acquired skills against necessary long-term career competencies.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. There are assuredly institutions or at least individual school or departments that excel at using learner/advisor dialogue, ePortfolios, or other methods of self-review that give learners greater visibility and understanding of the skills they have been exposed to and thus may be able to demonstrate.
Challenging Times Bring New Opportunities
As institutions work to address both operational and fundamental questions pertaining to their programs and services, the time is rife with opportunity to continuously improve. Asking the right questions about where that improvement should be focused, and what solutions can allow that improvement to happen without adding more work, is more important than ever. The excitement around these high impact practices—and by extension a badging and credentialing tool like Milestone—is that collectively we in higher education can give learners something they’ve rarely gotten before: the ability to understand the meaning behind what they’ve achieved and to bridge the gap for whatever comes next.
Visit https://www.milestoneskills.com to discover our approach to helping institutions manage learner skills and achievement using digital badging and credentialing, paths, competency assessment, skill endorsement, career goals, and job matching.
[i] Stolba, S. (2019) Millennials’ Student Loan Debt Continues to Rise. In Experian online. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/research/millennials-and-student-loan-debt-study/
[ii] Duffin, E. (2019) Resident population in the United States in 2017, by generation (in millions). In Statista online. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/797321/us-population-by-generation/
[iii] Median age of the labor force, by sex, race, and ethnicity. In Bureau of Labor Statistics online. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/median-age-labor-force.htm
[iv] Smith-Barrow, D. (2018) Is college enrollment among older adults increasing? Depends who you ask. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/is-college-enrollment-among-older-adults-increasing-depends-who-you-ask/
[v] Koc, E. (2018) Is there really a skills gap? Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/trends-and-predictions/is-there-really-a-skills-gap/