The elusive sheepskin

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 protected].