Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Higher Ed Curricula – the Short Game

It is time that we prepare for adding a more relevant, more responsive, student-centered, technology-delivered curriculum. 

Rick Seltzer reports in Higher Ed Dive that a recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded study of 18-to-30-year-olds without a college degree, found: “Respondents prioritized their own emotional, mental and financial health more frequently than a college education. Researchers asked them about their personal goals over the next few years. Almost nine in 10 respondents, 87%, said good mental and emotional health was either important or their top priority, making it the most popular answer. A close second was financial stability, cited by 85%, and in third place was earning more money, at 80%.” 

A new survey by Coursera shows that most employers and students view short-term, industry certificates as a worthwhile addition to a college degree and a strong positive in the hiring and job-seeking process. Former Missouri State University President Michael T. Nietzel, writing in Forbes, reports: “Among the U. S students surveyed, 81% believed that micro-credentials would help them succeed in their job, and 74% said the presence of relevant micro-credentials would influence their choice of a degree program at their university.” 

Colleges and universities must respond to the needs, desires and demands of our clientele – the students, families and employers who pay for and consume our learning products. The truth is that the desired workforce characteristics are changing. The last century model of employees working many years, even decades, at one job for one employer, is long gone. As such, one degree will not sustain a lifetime of work credentials. A continuing flow of upskilling and reskilling will be required for lifelong success.

The need is not to abandon the baccalaureate or graduate degrees. Rather, it is to provide affordable, effective ways for more students to build a scaffolding of knowledge and skills to successfully launch rewarding careers in a constantly shifting economy. Further, it is to build paths for continuous improvement and advancement for those already in the workforce.

Today, in large part because of the advances in technology, needed labor skills change rapidly from year to year. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report released last month shows the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.1 years in January 2022. For men, it was 4.3 years; for women it was 3.9 years. That means that nearly as soon as workers begin a new job, they are looking, and preparing, for the next job. That means they are also in the market for relevant certificates that document their readiness to successfully take the next step in their careers.

Not to trivialize these changes in any way, as a recreational golfer I cannot help but to see an analogy to the game. Despite those captivating vistas of 500-yard-long fairways and the soaring tee shots of the pros, to my mind (and ability), golf is much more of a short game. The short game is focused on the last 100 yards. Some two-thirds of all golf shots are in the short game. Forty percent of all shots are on the putting green. So, it seems that learning and practice are best focused on finishing the job for that hole. That’s where the payoff – birdie, par, bogey or worse – comes. The wise golfer concentrates on developing the short game to successfully complete each hole, much like the learner works on adding skills and knowledge in increments to advance in their careers.

A college baccalaureate degree today is like the long fairway; it takes four to five years of full-time study to complete. Colleges and universities will, of course, continue to serve that need for a lengthy, well-rounded education. But, given the needs of employers and priorities of students and families to produce a faster, more economical return on their investment, shorter term certificate programs are appealing. For example, UC Davis reports regarding their programs that “Most certificate programs take approximately two years to complete if you take one course per quarter. Intensive Certificate Programs are typically completed in 10-12 weeks of full-time study. Customized Certificate Programs may take up to five years to complete.” 

As we prepare for the needs of learners, we should take stock of the fact that some will continue to need a baccalaureate degree, however all will require many continuing professional education in the form of additional certificates, certifications, internships, apprenticeships and other learning opportunities. Stackable certificates provide a way to scaffold learning in increments that are marketable – providing career advancement along the way. These are where the learning can be focused on the job at hand, while at the same time, accrue longer-term benefits in the form of associate, baccalaureate and advanced degrees. It is in this mix of offerings that the long-term “return” on the cumulative investment in education is realized.

So, how might an institution begin to add the short game to its portfolio? First, we assess our current offerings to match their relevance to the field both today and anticipated for the future. We can only do that with the close cooperation and coordination with professionals already in the field. Adjustments are made as needed. We further collaborate with employers to identify the learning outcomes, usually across several classes, that qualify successful completion as meeting the needs of entry level applicants for a class of positions. These are then assembled into a sequence that can be completed efficiently and assessed, perhaps using virtual and augmented reality tools to best simulate the real application of skills, methods and principles learned. With the help of interested students and families, we find the best match for setting costs, modes of delivery, and course loads. In taking this approach, we engage all three groups of our stakeholders – employers, prospective students, and families – in helping the faculty and staff to shape the best product. This engagement process is regularly repeated to add more certificate sequences and to update older ones.

Does this kind of internal/external collaboration go into frequent reviews and revisions of your curriculum? Are your departmental curricula up-to-date and relevant to employers in all relevant fields? Are you responding to the needs of students and families by engaging them frequently and deeply in developing standards for workload for classes, modes of delivery, length of certificates, and desired career outcomes?


This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning.

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

Department of Education Releases Final Rules on 90/10 Rule, Incarcerated Individuals, Borrower Defense, Debt Relief Programs, Among Others | Policy Matters (October 2022)

Major Updates Submission Form for Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Opens; Accepting Applications Through End of 2023 The application for federal student loan forgiveness for up to $20,000 for eligible individuals opened earlier this month. Though the deadline to submit for forgiveness is December 31, 2023, student loan borrowers are encouraged to submit prior to November…

Read More

UPCEA Announces Retirement of Chief Membership Officer Kimberly Zaski, New Staff Additions

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 28, 2022 – UPCEA, the association for leaders in online and professional continuing education, has announced a number of key staff changes. Chief Membership Officer and Vice President, Corporate Partnerships Kimberly Zaski is retiring at the end of the calendar year. She will be replaced by Kathleen Ives, formerly CEO of the…

Read More

New Book Turns Lens on Online Education’s ROI Imperative

‘Using ROI for Strategic Planning of Online Education’ explores process for shifting to an ROI mindset amid pressure for higher ed to prove value and relevance WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES, October 25, 2022 — Higher education has rarely employed return on investment (ROI) methodology in strategic planning for online education. This may be about to…

Read More

New Study: Third-Party Providers and PCO Units

UPCEA recently collaborated with ed2go on research related to professional, continuing, and online (PCO) education units’ relationships with third-party providers. This study, Perceptions of Third-Party Providers as a Result of the Pandemic, found that PCO units often sought assistance from third-party providers to help expand bandwidth to support existing students, diversify their portfolios, and continually…

Read More

2022 UPCEA MEMS Award Recipients Announced

15 Recipients Chosen For Three Award Categories WASHINGTON, D.C., October 20, 2022 — UPCEA, the leader in online and professional continuing education, has announced the recipients of the 2022 Excellence in Enrollment Management Award, Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness in Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Success Award, and the new Excellence in Marketing Award.  All…

Read More

In-House or Outsource? UPCEA/University of Louisville study explores factors at play in deciding to work with an OPM

New Research Offers Insights into the Criteria and Contractual Agreements Chief Online Learning Officers (COLOs) Consider When Deciding to Work With an OPM LOUISVILLE, KY and WASHINGTON, DC (October 6, 2022) — With the explosive growth of online learning and the accompanying rise of online program managers (OPMs), Chief Online Learning Officers (COLOs) at higher…

Read More

Whether you need benchmarking studies, or market research for a new program, UPCEA Consulting is the right choice.

We know you. We know the challenges you face and we have the solutions you need. We speak your language and have been serving leaders like you for more than 100 years. UPCEA consultants are current or former continuing and online higher education professionals who are experts in the industry—put our expertise to work for you.

UPCEA is dedicated to advancing quality online learning at the institutional level. UPCEA is uniquely focused on excellence at the highest levels – leadership, administration, strategy – applying a macro lens to the online teaching and learning enterprise. Its engaged members include the stewards of online learning at most of the leading universities in the nation.

We offers a variety of custom research options through a variable pricing model.

Click here to learn more.

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.