Higher Education in a Hurry up World

Radio, TV, the internet, billboards on major highways, newspapers and magazines – have you noticed that we’re being bombarded with advertising from institutions of higher education?

I may notice more than other folks because I work for a regulatory agency that oversees for-profit and some non-profit schools that operate in the state where I live. My agency’s mission is consumer protection. We make sure that advertising is truthful and not misleading; that schools have a catalog where they inform students of their policies and procedures; that contracts between schools and students comply with state law; that schools are bonded; and that they are financial viable.

Higher education is booming at a time when other industries are faltering in our country. Our society has moved to a place where its citizens believe that we can’t be successful or get ahead in the workforce unless we have special training and in many areas of employment, a degree. Adult students over the age of twenty-five are entering institutions of higher learning in droves. A majority of these students have been out of school for a long time. Many were not good students while they were in school. They are juggling family, work and school obligations. They are fearful of not succeeding.

In addition, many are borrowing large sums of money at exorbitant interest rates to finance their education. Employers have become less willing to offer tuition reimbursement to their employees. If they do, they often require that those employees who receive tuition reimbursement make a commitment of time to work for the company after they complete their programs.

To meet the increased need for higher education, many institutions have compressed their training programs into so-called accelerated programs. Courses that ten years ago took 18 weeks to complete have now been compressed into 4, 6 or 8 week modules. Many courses are offered online and students may never meet their instructors or other students in the same course or program. Institutions often grant credits for life experiences or students can test out of certain courses. In fact, students can complete entire degree programs without ever stepping a foot on the campus where the degrees was earned.

Another common practice in higher education today is the hiring of adjunct faculty. Hiring criteria for adjunct faculty is often only a history of working in the field in which they will be teaching. They probably don’t have any classroom experience or training in teaching. They may not feel any loyalty to the institution and will go where the money is the best; even if that means deserting the school and their students before the completion of the course they are teaching. They may be experts in their field, but that doesn’t mean that they can effectively teach what they know to others. Adjuncts usually have full-time jobs and like the students they teach, are juggling family and work commitments.

How does all of this translate to the today’s workplace? Employers are beginning to realize that the completion of a degree or other advanced training does not mean that new-hires are ready to “hit the floor running.” It is common practice for employers to put new-hires through employer-specific training programs. Employers look for interviewees who have skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication. They want employees who will fit in and complement their workforce.

There probably is no going back to the “good old days” of higher education when young adults went from high school to an institution of higher education. We have a new reality in our society; life-long learning is here to stay. Institutions will continue to improve the ways in which they offer their training programs; adults returning to school will become more astute at finding institutions that offer quality programs and employers will have a larger pool of candidates for the jobs they need to fill.