Colleges and universities anticipate a 17 percent growth in enrollment over the next 10 years, much of it in the “adult learner” category (adults 25 to 64). Many of these students will receive financing from the companies for which they work.
“Forty percent of people in the work force participate in some form of continuing education,” says Dr. Patricia A. Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State University. “Employees with high school diplomas earn an average of $29,000 per year, while those with bachelor’s degrees earn $54,000. The work force understands the value of investing in education and training.”
So, too, does business and industry, Book adds. “Employers are spending more on work force training and education,” she says. “Nationally, 60 million adult students receive some kind of support from their employers.”
Smart Business spoke with Book about why employers should support degree-completion programs for valued employees.
How do degree-completion programs help our regional economy?
Higher education is necessary for economic growth here in Northeast Ohio. Per capita personal income which approximates regional standard of living is directly tied to degree attainment, particularly completion of bachelor’s degrees. The more education, the more likely people are to get the jobs that the new knowledge economy is creating.
In today’s work environment, the skills and competencies developed through continuing higher education technical and problem-solving skills as well as creativity and the ability to innovate are needed to keep ahead of global competitors. Even people with degrees need to keep learning throughout their careers. The bigger picture is that Northeast Ohio won’t be able to compete as a region if we don’t have the human capital and talent to fill the types of jobs that are being created. And, as a region and state, we are lagging behind.
Why should employers offer degree-completion programs as an employee benefit?
There is a direct correlation between investing in continuing education and retention of employees. When you invest in employees, they invest in you. Because employees develop current knowledge, critical thinking and creative abilities through continuing education, they can better help your company address challenges and develop strategies for success. Many companies see their investment in education and training as enhancing their ability to attract talent.
Has there been a change in degree-completion programs over time?
The most common content areas are management and supervision for those who only have a technical background or degree and business practices. But institutions across the region are developing new degrees that respond to the needs of the work force in areas as diverse as radiologic technology, bioscience, manufacturing technology and a host of health-related occupations like occupational therapy, physical therapy and nursing. Educational providers are adjusting their curricula to provide new programs, and modifying existing degrees, developing new tracks within those degrees and creating companion degrees that focus on the kind of talent that businesses need.
Is technical knowledge stressed?
The promising graduates coming out of universities particularly at the baccalaureate and graduate levels are people who can lead and transfer knowledge. Scientists are increasingly commercializing research and technology to create new businesses in advanced materials and the biosciences. Yes, an important component is technical knowledge, but equally important are creativity and innovation the kinds of things we need as a country to remain competitive in the global economy. So scientists, engineers and other high-tech employees need that broader background provided by the foundational bachelor’s degree. But we as a nation also need to produce scientists and leaders who have master’s degrees or doctorates in research-based fields like engineering, science, medicine, biology and chemistry.
How do online courses fit in to degree-completion programs?
Because of the flexibility and new methodologies for delivering education, forecasts predict more and more students opting for full-time online enrollment. Institutions understand that adult learners have major commitments to work and family, so they cannot easily commit to the daytime class schedule of a traditional student. Online classes and shorter courses make it easier for adult students to arrange their studies around their work and personal lives. But online courses that engage both the instructor and student have to be well designed and rigorous to ensure quality.
Should upper management also consider degree-completion programs?
Absolutely. Management development is a huge need and probably the most dominant area in continuing higher education. Most universities and some colleges offer an executive MBA program tailored to senior executives. It can keep top talent on the cutting edge of business management and strategy including an international component.
DR. PATRICIA A. BOOK is vice president for regional development at Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or email@example.com.