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5 Higher Education Trends and What They Mean for Central Ohio’s Workforce

Franklin University Franklin University 5 Higher Education Trends and What They Mean for Central Ohio’s WorkforceFranklin University President Dr. David Decker - Photo provided by Franklin University
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Higher education is at an inflection point. Shifting government regulations and expectations for return on investment are just a few of the major factors making waves in the industry. How are higher education institutions responding to this environment and which topics are dominating the conversation? Perhaps most importantly, how will these trends impact the economy in which we live and work?  

Dr. David Decker, president of Franklin University, weighs in on the most relevant trends for higher education institutions today and the implications for Central Ohio’s workforce.

Trend 1: Rethinking the “Traditional” College Student

Age has always been a defining characteristic in higher education, so much so that universities have split students into two camps—“traditional students” who are under age 25 and “nontraditional students” who are 25 years and older. Traditional students are also typically qualified by their student status (full-time), residence (on-campus), and learning modality (in-person). But does the “traditional” student signifier have a place in 2020’s higher education landscape? 

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 19.9 million students attended colleges and universities in fall 2019. Of those students, 12.5 million students were under age 25 and 7.4 million students were over 25 years old. That means approximately 37% of college students are actually older than 25. When it comes to student status, 7.8 million students attend school part-time, which is 39% of students. 

These are not small portions of the student population. Many colleges and universities are looking to adapt their educational experience to meet the needs of these “nontraditional” students.

“The number of traditional age students is finite,” says Dr.Decker, president of Franklin University. “You can look at how many babies were born in a certain time period and how many high school graduates there are. But there’s no limit to nontraditional students—whether it’s adults who haven’t earned a degree or ones who could pursue an advanced degree. I think the number of nontraditional students will only continue to grow. If higher education institutions are going to tap into this market, they have to meet the demands of students who are balancing demanding professional and personal lives in addition to their education. From how we recruit these students to how we educate them and support their success, higher education institutions need to meet these students where they are, not expect them to adapt to traditional methods.”

How does this shifting demographic of students affect the Central Ohio workforce? The nature of work is changing and evolving. Technology is causing a shift in workforce demand, accelerating the need for higher levels of education. Individual employees and corporations recognizing the need for more advanced skills will continue to increase minimum qualifications and therefore, levels of degree attainment must follow suit.

Trend 2: Online Education is Outpacing In-Person Degrees

Online education has been around for approximately 25 years. The fidelity of online education, as well as its prominence and reputation, has changed dramatically, especially in the last five years. According to labor analytics firm EMSI, completions of distance-offered degrees have increased by nearly 50% from 2012 to 2018, while non-distance offered programs have actually experienced a decline of 4%. 

Why has online education taken off while traditional, in-person degrees have stagnated? Will this trend continue?

“Flexibility is increasingly important to people in all aspects of life and it’s no different for their education,” says Dr. Decker. “They want to complete their degree at their own pace—while working, traveling, or at home. That’s why we’ve seen online education become the preferred modality for part-time and professional students, and we’re seeing it gain traction with traditional students as well. That fact isn’t going to change—it’s only going to increase. Now, the question isn’t whether online degrees are in demand, it’s if you can deliver quality in addition to flexibility. At Franklin, instead of approaching curriculum design as content first, we emphasize how technology can help us design a course that helps students better understand the content. It’s a different way of thinking that many institutions aren’t used to.”

How will the growth of online education impact professionals in central Ohio? If you never earned your degree or need an advanced degree to qualify for a position, online education helps level the playing field. It makes getting a degree more accessible, while delivering the same—if not better—learning outcomes. 

Trend 3: Data is Driving Better Student Experiences 

Student retention has always been a top concern for colleges and universities. But now, with advanced data and analytics, colleges and universities have access to a wealth of information about their students. But do they know what to do with it? 

In today’s competitive higher education environment, institutions use data to identify opportunities to improve the student experience and spur higher success rates. 

“At Franklin, we take a very scientific approach,” says Dr. Decker. “We define tangible education outcomes and track student performance in all courses. We’re able to identify areas where students struggle and adjust the way we present the material, the order of lessons or other modifications that will raise the level of achievement. I think the future of student success is a rigorous approach to using data to improve how we educate and support our students. That’s why at Franklin we are so diligent in reporting on data both internally and to accreditors, whether it’s on achievement by course, program, degree, or student demographics.”

How does this trend impact the education and employment landscape in central Ohio? If higher education institutions take advantage of the power of data and analytics, student success rates should accelerate. This will not only have a positive impact on individuals, it will help grow the central Ohio economy.

Trend 4: Job-Ready Skills Are More Than Practical—They’re Essential

For a number of years, people have predicted the decline of the traditional degree. Disruptive credentialing, online courses and tech startups are entering the market to meet industry demands for practical skills. The question remains—is a college degree still relevant?

A national survey of HR professionals conducted by Northeastern University in December 2018 claims the value of educational credentials in hiring has either increased (48%) or held steady (29%) in the last five years. Also, wage premiums for college degree holders are still very much a reality. So how does higher education respond to industry challenges to deliver job-ready skills?

“There will always be many manifestations of higher education—from small, private liberal arts colleges to large, public research universities,” says Dr. Decker. “But there’s a push in today’s market to not only produce graduates, but prepared professionals. I believe it is our responsibility as a higher education institution to raise the level of skills of the workforce and take on the challenges of an expanding economy. At Franklin, we’ve chosen to specialize in professionally-oriented and skills-based education. We believe that graduates who are ready to hit the ground running on day one will be more attractive candidates, bring more value to their employers, and be better prepared to achieve their career goals.” 

How can skills-based education affect the central Ohio economy and workforce? The unemployment rate in central Ohio is very low—3.2% as of December 2019. For companies looking to grow and expand, a shortage of qualified talent is a reality. Higher education institutions must renew their focus on developing a well-prepared and skilled workforce to spur individual success and economic growth in Central Ohio. 

Trend 5: Education is Becoming a Sought-After Employee Benefit

Education can be a means to a new job, higher salary and advancement in competitive industries. Education is also vital to employers who are seeking highly skilled professionals. So if the needs of an industry demand education and individual employees place high value in it, how do both parties win?

“There is a correlation between higher levels of education and employee retention,” says Dr. Decker, “Especially in today’s job market, where unemployment is near historic lows, it’s an employee’s market. It’s common for people to move between companies for better offers and benefits. When corporations invest in education, it will not only enhance an employee’s contribution to their organization, but will help retain highly-skilled employees because they feel valued.”

We’re seeing a continual rise in corporate-sponsored education and training. But now, tuition reimbursement is only the tip of the iceberg. The future of corporate-sponsored education will blur the lines between higher education institutions and employers.

“At Franklin, we have over 100 corporate partners through our FranklinWORKS program,” says Dr. Decker. “We work with some of the most prominent employers in the Central Ohio area to offer accelerated degrees, specialized shorter programs and certificates, and customized training. This nimble approach represents a new opportunity for higher education to create targeted programs that meet the needs of employers and industries and spur economic development.”

How will these new educational partnerships impact central Ohio’s workforce? Central Ohio employers will continue to recognize the value of subsidized employee education as a competitive edge. This will give employees more options for education and training, which opens the door to advancement opportunities, as well as gives them bargaining power when exploring new job opportunities.

The Future of Higher Education in Central Ohio

Colleges and universities will need to create accessible, flexible, technical and skills-oriented programs to respond to market demands. How higher education institutions respond to these trends will not only play a role in their success, but also the success of central Ohio professionals, companies and economy. 

This article is one installment of the Jobs & Education Outlook series, presented with paid support by Franklin University.

Franklin University is an accredited and nonprofit college in Columbus that offers 100% online degree programs built for adults who are managing work and busy lives. For more information, visit franklin.edu.

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