We live in a world of vastly expanding knowledge, with more to learn every single day. Not only that, but we live in a world where education is accessible to more people, in more ways, than ever before. Clearly, the traditional model of a four-year degree (or maybe slightly more, if graduate degrees are added on) is no longer adequate to teach students all they need to know to continuously adapt to the knowledge needs of the new economy.
The good news for colleges and universities is that this offers an opportunity to expand offerings, engage students and reimagine how education is delivered. And along with that comes an increased revenue stream for institutions that are able to harness the power of these new educational models.
Top Up Degrees
One of the most obvious ways universities can extend their value to a student is to offer what I call “top up” degrees. Let’s say a student already has a humanities degree from the university, but the student wants to pursue his or her passion in accounting. Instead of going to a different school to earn a full master’s degree, or a second bachelor’s, the student could earn a “top up” degree. Knowing the general education that student already has received, these degrees could include only major credits and could be designed to be finished in only one year. The student gets the education he or she wants for less time and cost, and the university serves more students — a win-win.
When I was earning my bachelor’s degree, the internet existed, but you still had to use a modem to access it, and you definitely could not carry around a computer in your pocket. Many of the concepts I learned in my degree have served me well in my career, but I’ve had to acquire skills (like coding, which I am trying to learn) on my own.
This is an opportunity for colleges and universities to develop niche programs targeted at teaching specific skills in a short time span. Learning House’s coding bootcamp, The Software Guild, partners with universities to teach in-demand coding languages, but those aren’t the only skills that could be needed. Project management, finance, medical coding or even soft skills like communication all can be offered in a short time frame for a fraction of the cost to the student and with minimal investment for the university. Schools can take existing curricula and adapt them to the need they are trying to fill, or use their significant faculty resources to develop new programs. Offering programs like these has a side benefit of helping to inform the curriculum taught in degree programs, ensuring it is relevant to the market’s needs. They can even serve as pilot programs for schools wondering if they should offer a full degree in a specific area.
In a similar vein, schools should consider offering professional development programs for professionals in the area. Teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers and more all need continuing education to maintain their licensure. While many of these credits can be acquired for free, offering a more robust professional development program can help professionals advance in their career while also benefitting the institution. Learning House’s business unit Advancement Courses, for example, partners with universities to offer professional development to K-12 teachers, helping them be better in the classroom and also potentially qualify for salary advancement. And the university gets a new source of revenue from teachers in the area.
A steady revenue stream is only one advantage of these programs; they also can serve as brand-building tools for schools. If professionals continue to use these programs for professional development, it will help build the school’s reputation among that community. These kinds of programs also help recruit potential new students to degree programs. Say, for example, you have master’s degree programs in education. Teachers in your state may not be required to have a master’s, but having the degree may lead to bigger salaries. Teachers are required to have a certain amount of continuing education credits every year, however, and let’s say they take those credits from your school. Having a good experience in those programs is more likely to lead to them making your institution their first choice if and when they decide to go back for their next degree.
At one point, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, seemed like they were going to revolutionize higher education. I think at this point, it’s safe to say they have not lived up to their promise. But that’s not to say they aren’t still useful. MOOCs offer a low-commitment way for students to try out programs and learn some skills. They provide an excellent entry point into new concepts. Let’s go back to our example of the student who wants to pursue his or her passion for accounting. Before committing to the full degree, the student might want to take a course in, for instance, basic accounting. A MOOC allows students to do that on their own time, at their own pace, at little to no cost. Then, should they decide they are interested in further education, your institution will be there to fill the gap.
There is another potential use for MOOCs, which is a subscription model. It seems that everything in the age of the internet is a subscription, from audiobooks to razors to food prep and more. Why should education be any different? Having a subscription model for MOOCs can help address the issue I mentioned at the beginning of this post: how to continually expand your knowledge in an ever-changing world. For students who simply want to dabble in a number of fields, MOOCs are a good option. A subscription service might offer benefits like live feedback from an instructor, a grade so they can know how well they did or even a certificate of completion to show an employer.
Colleges have long taken an approach to alumni that is one-sided; they primarily communicate when it’s time to ask for donations. But shifting that strategy to become more of a conversation can reap big rewards.
Schools can offer access to a lifetime of content for graduates for free, building brand loyalty and continuing to provide something of value long after students have left. I would gladly access case studies, articles and even classroom lectures from my alma mater, Columbia Business School, making me feel like I was continuing to be engaged in the community. Some of this content could be free and some could be behind a paywall, but all of it would be useful, relevant and accessible. And since this is all content that is used in courses, it would require little investment to make it available to alumni.
All of my suggestions have one thing in common: They are designed to help students acquire targeted skills quickly. And while this has benefits for the institution, like generating more revenue, keeping alumni more engaged and expanding brand awareness, it also helps colleges and universities fulfill their mission of providing lifelong education that matters. And that’s something we can all be proud of.