Dr. Joe Cappa
March 22, 2016
With the acceleration of the 2016 presidential campaign discussions centered on unemployment, improving workforce skills and driving economic growth are front and center. In parallel to these topics is the discussion about the value of earning an undergraduate degree.
As business attempts to keep up with the speed of globalization, employers are demanding a new set of professional skills. An example is the ability to critically think through and effectively analyze the impact of a decision across the domestic and international divisions of an organization. The new classification of these skills can be considered to be "broad-based," requiring a more holistic understanding of the environment.
The increased speed of globalization in conjunction with a more competitive job market has created an additional level of complexity for employers seeking to identify relevant knowledge, skills and capabilities. There is a perception that the undergraduate business degree no longer equips graduates with the requisite knowledge and skills to meet employer needs. Thus the undergraduate degree has lost its value as a differentiating credential.
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks it was safe to assume that business organizations trusted higher education institutions to fulfill two main goals: provide the requisite knowledge and skills and ensure that business graduates were equipped to operate in a dynamic environment.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the ways in which companies conduct business changed. Employee relations, supply chain management, security, strategic planning - all were affected. Add to that the development of technology and its impact on processes, and business has dramatically changed in the last 15 years. There also has been a growing distrust among business organizations of higher education institutions. Organizations are no longer confident that colleges and universities adequately prepare undergraduate business student for the workforce.
In the lifespan of a business career one can expect and should plan for the following challenges: downsizing, job restructuring, a broader span of responsibilities, a hybrid work environment (remote teams, job sharing, etc.) and at least one career change. The undergraduate business degree is no longer the "guaranteed ticket" to securing and/or maintaining a position with an organization.
Employers' increased skepticism of the undergraduate business degree has morphed it from being the differentiating credential to the minimum required credential. This particularly impacts nontraditional business degree students seeking to augment their professional experience and advance in their professions. Whereas a business degree previously was the key to advancement, this is no longer the case. The undergraduate business degree has lost its prestige and in some cases is considered equal to or even less than a professional microcredential.
The new reality for nontraditional business students is that they are going to need a different type of undergraduate degree in order to remain competitive in their current field and/or a future field.
Academic coursework, must be relevant and compatible with the current business environment he or she is working in. This student also needs an academic path that includes non-degree learning opportunities to sustain career longevity.
My academic and professional careers shifted from traditional to nontraditional early on. I went from being a traditional student to a nontraditional student while starting my professional career in business. As I began my journey as a full-time student and full-time worker I found that the two worlds (academic and professional) often worked against each other.
I can't say with a great deal of certainty that my academic coursework prepared me for what happened in the work place any more than I can say that the work place complemented my academic coursework. I struggled through my non-business courses, not making connections to the broader picture. Likewise I never had any of my employers inquire as to what type of non-business skills I had learned. I do remember that they made it clear to me that there was a path to promotion once I had completed my undergraduate degree. During my time as a business professional, the degree was the differentiating credential.
The one caveat here is the timeframe and environment in which my experience took place. I completed my undergraduate degree in the mid-'90s, after a seven-year journey. The Internet was in its infancy, cell phones were awkward devices that often resembled a portable radio, there was no avenue for social media, and text messages came from a beeper. This environment did not require as much of a broad focus, as the world had yet to experience widespread globalization and was less connected. The experiences of today's nontraditional students and the environment in which they operate are vastly different. The Internet is maturing, cell phones are highly advanced, social media is instantaneous, and instant messaging has replaced the art of conversation. This environment requires a broad focus as the world is more connected through globalization.
So this brings me back the original question - what is the future of the undergraduate business degree for the nontraditional business student? Before I answer. I'll touch on four ideas that I think are not the future. First, the undergraduate business degree is not going to fall by the wayside in favor of micro-credentials, badges, experiential learning, etc. Second, the general education path can't remain rigid and non-discipline specific. Third, employers won't be the sole drivers of what will be considered the essential skills taught in an undergraduate business degree. Fourth, alternate learning paths are not a fad or the innovation du jour; they will have staying power.
The four ideas that I do see in for the future undergraduate business degree for nontraditional students are in directly related to the four previously mentioned ideas:
So what are we doing to address these concerns at SNHU?
At SNHU we are empowering our students to show their employers they can connect to and apply at work what they are learning in their courses. Their academic experiences here are relevant to their professional roles and they are able to demonstrate to their employers that they are ready for advancement.
For example, in one course our undergraduate business students learn how to be traders through TD Ameritrade simulated training. In others they manage a workbook through the entire accounting cycle or even run a business for nine weeks. Since students can apply that knowledge immediately on the job, an employer can see what an employee is accomplishing and how it contributes to his or her current role.
Academic initiatives and results such as these will strengthen the relationship between higher education and industry and help us restore lost trust.
This article was originally published on Academically Speaking.
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