The Future Workplace of Learning

February 1, 2018

A number of factors ailing the traditional higher education industry have some calling into question what its role will be in preparing students for the future workforce.

Part I. Where Higher Education in Workforce Development Is Headed

The popular notion that traditional higher education — namely four-year colleges and universities — is the primary vehicle for preparing the future workforce is fading.

Against a backdrop of record-low unemployment and a seemingly healthy economy is a higher education ecosystem under heavy scrutiny. Even though the share of high school graduates heading to college has increased in recent years, a skills gap has left more than 6 million jobs unfilled as of the end of 2017, according to the United States Labor Department. This has many calling into question the value of a traditional college degree, the cost of which is increasingly unattainable for most Americans.

Meanwhile, a plethora of alternative, technology-enabled online learning platforms are beginning to find mainstream appeal. Some are even partnering with companies to help fill the skills gap, while universities race to establish platforms and partnerships of their own to compete.

Adding fuel to this fire are efforts to reform higher education. For instance, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing a bill that proposes sweeping changes to higher education that they say would help fill the skills gap by providing students shorter and faster pathways to the work with skills actually needed in the workforce. The bill’s main target is reforming the government’s $1.34 trillion federal student-loan program, a mechanism that proponents say has enabled much of what ails traditional higher education.

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