Don't Believe (all of) the Hype; Higher Ed Isn't Dead.
Recent headlines from the Chronicle of Higher Education that predict the demise of higher education are stunning: “The Shrinking of Higher Ed,”; “Undergraduate Enrollment Continues its Slide,”; “5 Ways Higher Ed Will Be Upended,”; and “Community Colleges Try to Claw Their Way Back.”
Statistics also reveal that businesses in America are unsatisfied with college graduates, and only half of our country values a college education.
As a college administrator, I join those who suggest that the dissatisfaction with higher education is rooted in poorly aligned curriculum, cost increases, inconvenient instruction delivery (e.g., location and time), and impatience with traditional models of seat-time assessment. Instead, students of the 2020s are digital natives who prefer asynchronous and remote delivery with customizable payment options. Moreover, students and employers are looking for relevant and industry-aligned curricula centered on learning outcomes rather than processes.
The good news for Utahns is that our higher education system offers much (if not all) of what the new marketplace of learners requires. A quick look at the robust partnership between Utah Valley University and Mountainland Technical College demonstrates how higher education delivers on its mission to provide a well-prepared workforce of thoughtful citizens through stackable credentials and transfer mobility. For example, as far back as 2011, the Utah System of Higher Education took a bold step toward student success with the passage of policy R473 that encouraged pathways between the hands-on, practical, technical college non-credit courses with associates and bachelor’s degrees at our degree-granting institutions.
Today, Mountainland Technical College students can transfer up to 30 credits from their wallet-friendly technical college coursework toward a bachelor’s degree at Utah Valley University. So, not only does a student graduate from Mountainland with an industry-certified certificate of professional competency that supports good wages, but they can also leverage that learning to further their education. For their part, Utah Valley University has made attaining those degrees more convenient and affordable than ever through online offerings, scholarships, and grants.
Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, less than one percent of students have utilized these pathways over the last two years.
Instead of wringing our hands or scratching our heads, the Mountainland Technical College and Utah Valley University administrators are working hard to promote and improve these pipelines. Each institution has new positions focused on helping students understand their options and navigate around potential barriers. These pathway specialists are laser-focused on student success, not eye-popping statistics. Because we cater to each student’s unique demands, our pathway specialists measure their work as a function of a quality transfer rather than the number of students in the pipeline.
Suppose you are a student, a potential student, or a parent of one, and you are as impatient as I am with the old model of higher education. In that case, I encourage you to explore the relevant, industry-aligned curriculum offered across various learning platforms through Mountainland Technical College and Utah Valley University.
Joseph M. Demma is vice president of Mountainland Technical College in Lehi, Utah