Is a college degree still worth it? It’s the question that seems to be on everyone’s minds. That is because the hottest commodity in the labour market right now isn’t a bachelor’s degree – it’s skills.
Do employers still want to see degrees on resumes? Absolutely. But what they really want are highly skilled, tech-savvy workers. A recent study of more than 50 million job postings from 2017 to 2020, published in Harvard Business Review, bear that out: many companies are “resetting” degree requirements and moving toward skills-based hiring.
The importance of demonstrating verifiable skills to employers is also driving a strong trend towards new microcredential programmes and other alternative education and training pathways. Rising tuition costs, increasing market disruptions, the housing market and inflation are all contributing to the urgency of upskilling for better-paying jobs.
Colleges and universities are no doubt feeling the pressure to build stronger education-to-employment pipelines and to demonstrate better return on investment for degree programmes. If the emphasis in the job market is on skills-based hiring, a college transcript ought to reflect that. It sounds reasonable enough, but the process to get there involves a major paradigm shift.
Institutions need to review curricula and co-curricular activities and map them to skills that align with employers’ hiring needs. A critical component is an authentic assessment of student learning outcomes. Institutions need to define course, programme and co-curricular learning objectives and express them as skills. They then need to align these skills to the content and curriculum, and map the learning objectives to an assessment method capable of verifying mastery of these skills.
Depending on the subject matter, all this can be arduous, but it is worth the effort. While the extent of faculty responsibility for preparing students for the workplace has been up for debate, the benefit of taking these steps is alignment between faculty and students on the value of the course, programme or co-curricular activity. Another benefit for students is an understanding of how the skills they learn will position them for subsequent coursework or future employment. This increases transparency and helps them choose their majors.
The conversation around skills and curriculum mapping is a catalyst for institutions and employers to engage in substantive dialogue, which ultimately benefits the student, the employer and the regional economy. Employers have the opportunity to articulate their needs and influence academic programming to align with their future hiring priorities. Institutions have the opportunity to build a relationship with in-demand employers, allowing them to increase placement rates for their graduates and keep their curricula current – as well as to articulate how they are supporting state, regional and local economies.
Understanding earnings potential based on certain skill sets acquired during college is a further natural step institutions can take to demonstrate value to students and parents. Essentially, it allows the institution to say, “We will teach you these skills, which qualify you for these occupations with this earning potential.”
Last but not least, we must address stakeholder expectations around helping students better communicate to employers what they know and what they can do. Which brings us back to transcripts.
On its own, the traditional college transcript fails to communicate what employers want to know. This is precisely the argument for campuses to adopt the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR), a skills-based transcript. The CLR Standard, as defined by the IMS Global Learning Consortium is “the new generation of secure and verifiable learning and employment records supporting all nature of academic and workplace recognition and achievements including courses, competencies and skills and employer-based achievements and milestones.”
To be clear, CLR is not just a niche topic reserved for the registrar’s office. If implemented correctly, it could be leveraged as the ultimate measure of student learning. As a data-informed digital record, CLR is built to empower schools to track and communicate the knowledge and skills learners have attained. It goes way beyond the traditional college transcript.
Having a reliable data strategy and platform in place to integrating CLR as an institutional best practice would greatly contribute to the development of healthy data ecosystems across campus. It has the power to reveal student strengths, weaknesses and skills, and may even suggest the next best move on their education-to-career pathway. Over time, the data paint a more compelling and accurate picture of where the student has been, what they can do and where they want to go.