Upskilling: What Programs Can Higher Ed Leaders Create?

upskilling for workers

Research shows that incoming freshmen are not as prepared as they need to be for success in college. Similarly, businesses recognize college grads lack essential skills to perform their job duties. Many reasons exist for the skills gap for high school graduates, college attendees, recent graduates, and adult learners. College leaders can use these different examples below to create and provide upskilling solutions.


“In almost every rich country, women earn the majority of bachelor’s degrees.”


Higher Ed Leaders Face at Least Three Trends That Point to a Need for Student Upskilling


Students Lack Pre-Skills

Therefore, both high school students and college graduates lack skills. High school students report they are underprepared for the challenges and lack the basic skills needed for college courses. Similarly, recent college grads say their education did not give them the skills needed to perform in their first degree-related job. Besides that, many are not applying for entry-level jobs because they do not meet the listed requirements.


Men Enrollment Has Dropped

Secondly, male college enrollment has dropped dramatically, accounting for 70% of the decline in students in 2020. “In almost every rich country, women earn the majority of bachelor’s degrees,” notes historian and economics professor Claudia Goldin of Harvard University. Most importantly, men are less prepared than women to enter college as they underperform in high school compared to their female counterparts.


College Enrollment Has Declined

Furthermore, college enrollment overall has declined every year between 2010 and 2020. To put that into perspective, enrollment numbers fell only six times in the nearly 60 years between 1952 and 2010. This trend is likely largely due to innovative alternatives to college education that are giving students the skills they need to be competitive.


How Can Higher Ed Leaders Solve the Need for Upskilling?

Most importantly, colleges and universities can be part of the solution to solve the skills that students and employees are missing. Here are three ways leaders can make a difference.


Create Alternative Programs for Upskilling

Besides that, college leaders can create programs that extend beyond the traditional degree pursuit of a degree. Thus, examples include certificate programs, boot camps, specializations, micro-credentials, and job training that replaces the first year of college. Leaders can gain insight from programs that are already in place at some colleges to create programs at their own schools. Some examples include the following


  • Universal Learner Courses: At Arizona State University, high school students and adult learners earn credit for online college courses at a reduced cost. They can see if college is a good fit for them, and they only pay if they earn a C or higher.
  • Earned Admission Program: At Utah State University, students take self-paced prep courses to try out the college experience with reduced tuition. Success can help them gain admission to full-time enrollment.
  • Adult Online Learning: University of North Carolina’s Project Kitty Hawk uses $97 million in pandemic recovery funds to create working adult, online learning programs. Courses are focused on skills development.
  • Job Skills Training: Year Up nonprofit organization aims to provide job training programs, skills training, experiences to all youth. The goal is to help young people have what they need to succeed in their careers and college.
  • Bootcamps: Colleges and universities can create, partner with, or acquire boot camps that offer skills development to students and workers. One such example is Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) acquisition of Kenzie Academy to expand its offerings of micro-credentials.


Create Stackable Credits for Upskilling

Like SNHU, college leaders can institute micro-credentials professional development programs at their schools. These stackable credits allow professionals to gain competency in various skills related to their jobs. They earn a certificate or other credentials one skill at a time. The benefits of micro-credentials include personalized learning, smaller time commitments, and more competitive skills development. The stackable credits will support upskilling.


Partner With Businesses

Moreover, colleges can partner with businesses in determining course creation. When college leaders consult with area businesses on what skills their workers need, they can create the appropriate courses. Similarly, colleges can co-create apprenticeship programs with businesses to cultivate students with on-the-job skills training and experience. For example, Five Guys has partnered with the Community College System of New Hampshire to offer a restaurant management apprenticeship program.


In summary, high schoolers, college graduates, and professional workers lack the skills that employers desire. College leaders can create innovative programs, provide micro-credentials, and partner with businesses to provide solutions for upskilling. These efforts will help prepare both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce to have career success and be competitive wage earners.

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