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The Challenges for Higher Education

By Kim Peretti, VP, Adobe Training Services

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Kim Peretti, VP, Adobe Training Services

The times are changing and this is how the song goes. And it rings especially true for Higher Education. With globalization of our world and accelerating pace of technological innovation,our current higher education systems will face challenges in delivering timely, effective, and relevant learning in its current structure Industries today, whether they be medicine, manufacturing, retail or construction leverage technology every day, the technology they leverage continues to evolve and change and at a pace never seen before. Technology feels like it’s accelerating — because it actually is. Thus, for higher education to stay relevant and demonstrate value it will either equip students with the right learning programs to keep pace or find partners to help them do that to both scale and relevancy.

"Higher Education May Want To Look To Partner With Industry And Non-Traditional Education Programs To Support Their Future Learning Programs"

The current higher education model and structure has been in place for centuries and will require a transformation to have meaning and impact in today’s environment. Business is requiring university graduates to have relevant experience with the technologies they will use in their day-to-day jobs. They expect their new hires to come with some skills and exposure to technology that is part of the job requirements. To meet these demands, two critical changes must take place in higher education. First, curriculum and program reviews must accelerate and keep pace with the change. Second and in parallel, academic institutions must be able to infuse their programs with real-world experience and application either directly or via strategic business partnerships.

To understand the magnitude of the change, think about how long it takes to change or develop a curriculum in an academic program today at many universities. On average, 12-24 months, and as much as 36 months, for a new curriculum to be developed, approved, and ultimately delivered into the learning environment whether that be live or on-demand. These timelines could make most curriculums with a technology component obsolete before it’s ever delivered.

Additionally, today’s business environment requires candidates to have field and practical experience to be relevant and employable. Academic institutions are challenged to meet this current requirement as their tenured staff is generally out of the field of study for many years. Professors don’t have the “real life” experience required to produce a curriculum that is up-to-date and relevant in today’s business world. It is the rare professor or department that has the field experience that they can overlay into their programs. Millenials and other savvy learners demand the practical application of what they are learning because they know they will be expected to show those competencies as they enter the workforce. Those universities that don’t adjust to meet these demands may have a more difficult time getting their graduates into professional and well-paying jobs which is a key performance indicator for universities.

In the midst of these pressures on the higher education world, industry too is also challenged and stressed as they cannot find the skill sets required to meet their business objectives. Without well-skilled resources, business is at risk for two reasons. First, continual innovation and transformation may be stalled because the resources to drive both the vision and the execution of them are limited or don’t exist in the business, second, skilled resources are scarce in the marketplace, talent wars are created, and costs for resources increase, causing an impact on the bottom line either because the higher price is paid or it’s not the experience needed to drive the right outcomes. Ultimately making it in everyone’s best interest to find a solution that supports long-term skill and learning development.

Higher education may want to look to partner with industry and non-traditional education programs to support their future learning programs. Within the technology industry,there are a number of companies that offer academic programs or alliances that help universities incorporate technology into their academic areas of study. These programs provide professors and their institutions with the curriculum, training, and technical environments needed to build relevant programs that keep pace with the changing technology landscape. These businesses move fast and constantly update the content within the academic programs to ensure participating universities and students are up to date. This also encourages universities to engage and participate in the development of the faculty and staff so they may develop and deliver these courses,. Moreover, universities may also want to rethink the traditional case study and instead offer a use case that combines solving the business problem or opportunity with a specific or set of technologies. Ultimately, finding a solution where both knowledge and skill mesh to develop real, tangible skills that are applied.

Furthermore, we may also start to see a change in the concept of what is considered as ‘higher education’ and who offers it. The value of a two or four year degree is changing and employers appear less interested in the degree and more interested in the skills, which they can see via communities of practice, forums, and samples or projects. There is a very direct and specific way to get the skills needed to be relevant and employable. That program goes so far as to vet and connect those who complete their program via a set of project-based learning events with employers.

There are companies such as Udacity, Pluralsight and Coursera who also offer fields of study and programs that produce very specific skills sets as it relates to technology. There are industry/field of study accreditation programs through alternative/non-traditional education programs that offer participants a singular and very specific set of skills upon completion. And once the program is completed, they offer a set of identifiable ‘badges’ that signify skills and expertise to the marketplace. With new demands and different expectations, higher education will need to change. Those that are in front of it will yield the best results in terms of brand, enrollment, and relevancy. Those that don’t may not survive.

Founded in 1982, Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions. Based in San Jose, California, Adobe specializes in the areas of Software, Creative Cloud amongst others.