The role of higher education is changing as tuition costs remain high and more diverse employment and training options open up to students.

After watching previous generations of college graduates fill the unemployment line and face potentially crippling student loan payments, many are rethinking the paths available after high school. With the promise of success through certain new collar careers that can be secured with on-the-job training, MOOC certification, or require only an associate-level or trade-school education, students are now presented with different career paths that don’t rely on a traditional four-year, higher education.

How the Role of Higher Education Changed

higher educationIn “Understanding the Purpose of Higher Education: An Analysis of the Economic and Social Benefits for Completing a College Degree,” Harvard University’s Roy Y. Chan reveals benefits of higher education that are societal, such as “advanced knowledge and higher cognitive skills, greater productivity and higher tax payments, increased quality of civic life, reduced crime rates, and greater appreciation for diversity” and individual, which include “improved health and life expectancy, higher salaries and work benefits, increased personal status, greater rates of employment, and personal and professional mobility.” In addition to other important characteristics that are cultivated through the pursuit of higher education, these benefits help students refine their skills to enter the workforce, become more insightful individuals, and conduct research that leads to new innovations.
Chan’s report also discusses a study that discovered a generational shift between Millennial and Baby Boomer college graduates regarding the confidence they have in the importance of their undergraduate degrees. The 2015 Gallup-Purdue University study examined the feedback of 30,000 college graduates and found “…that while 50 percent of baby boomers agree that their college education was worth it, less than 38 percent of alumni who graduated between 2006 and 2015 strongly agree with the statement. That is, recent college graduates, or the millennial generation (defined as 18-35 age), are beginning to see less value in pursuing and completing a college degree than previous generations, despite the economic and social benefits of higher education…”

Higher Education Prep in Middle and High School

Though not every child will pursue traditional higher education, the preparation that can be taught in middle and high school will be applicable to any career path. Middle and high school educators should develop lessons that help students build non-academic strengths prior to graduation. By incorporating tactics in experiential, project– and station-based learning, teachers will cultivate in students critical thinking, teamwork readiness, a quality work ethic, and the non-cognitive skills that Raja Bentaouet Kattan deemed as crucial in her May 2017 World Bank article “Non-cognitive Skills: What Are They and Why Should We Care?”

When students have built a strong foundation in these areas during middle and high school, they will be better equipped to approach curriculum in college due to their strong understanding of the problem-solving processes that are necessary to successfully complete coursework. As students are able to complete projects that require real-world problem solving, they will become more attractive to prospective employers. Following graduation from college, these prepared students will be more likely to fulfill all needs of employers, without requiring excessive monitoring and extensive training from superiors. If they choose an alternate training route such as trade school or earning an associate degree, these skills will still be beneficial in helping them experience success and achieve their goals.

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