In the late 1990s, higher education and the importance of a four-year college degree started to change. The education systems themselves were not changing, but businesses were. It had been a national standard that in order to get a start a successful career you must first earn a college degree. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part higher education was the first step to entering the workforce. This is proving to no longer be the case, and universities noticing this are starting to ask a much bigger question; is college meant to provide students with a broad education or is it meant to prepare students for a job?
The internet and technology boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s were the major factors that drove the economy. Since then, corporations have started to distance themselves from colleges and universities and partnerships between them have significantly declined. In 1996, 75% of businesses offered tuition reimbursement programs to their employees. In 2015 that number had decreased to 52%. I believe this is because the internet and evolutions of technology have created new desirable skill sets sought after by employers that you do not necessarily need a four-year college degree to acquire.
Colleges have seen a consistent decline in enrollment over the last four years. Since 2013, enrollment has decreased by 3% every year in higher education institutions across the board. For-profit institutions have been hit the hardest, facing an average decline of 17.5% each year. People are realizing that they aren’t limited to a classic four-year degree when obtaining higher levels of education. Additionally, with tuition rates steadily rising, but the increase of the average salary lagging, we are seeing that the ROI for a typical four-year college education may not be worth the cost; a shocking 42% of millennials have student loan debt and with viable alternatives on the table many may turn away from the expensive four-year college route.
Millennials make up the largest majority in the U.S. labor force and those on the upper end of this generational spectrum are beginning to take on leadership roles within their respective organizations. As more and more millennials become leaders in their industries, I think the new standard of prerequisites to get a job will be less dependent on a four-year degree. Instead, certifications, badges, CEU’s, and other non-traditional education programs will be just as valuable for getting a job, all of which are significantly cheaper and quicker to obtain.
Based on my research, and experience as a millennial in the workforce, my inclination is that distance learning, continuing education units, certifications, badges, etc. will become the new norm for postsecondary education and will continue to be the norm for lifelong learners. Most colleges are suffering because they aren’t adapting to the new world of learners in this highly technological age. This disruption in such a massive industry has created a market need, and professional and trade associations are situated in a unique place to take advantage of this new opportunity and relieve these pain points.
Associations can leverage their current assets to expand their lifelong and distance learning or professional development programs to a younger audience. Most associations have a similar message to their members that emphasizes the CONTINUATION of learning and offers an opportunity to further develop your professional skills and advance in your career. Now, there is an opportunity for associations to help their members START their careers.