What Colleges and Universities Can Do Right Now to Make Their Students More Employable


When students decide where to go for higher education, one of the key factors they take into consideration is the job opportunities this investment will give them. That’s why career support and development are important for student recruitment — now more than ever. 

Traditional recruitment methods may not be enough in today’s competitive landscape, a fact that is especially true as colleges and universities compete globally. For example, a 2021 survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute in the U.K. found that the vast majority of international students (92%) think career support is important or very important when choosing a college or university.   

In Coursera’s webinar “Enhancing Student Employability Through Skills-Based Learning,” Michael B. Horn, coauthor of Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions, and Scott Shireman, Global Head at Coursera for Campus, discussed the need for colleges and universities to adapt to skills-based learning, the difference between teaching human skills and digital skills, and much more. 

Watch the full webinar here.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation:

1. Students Feel Underprepared for Career Outcomes

According to the HEPI survey, only 52% of students feel their university satisfies their career support needs. In the U.S., employability ranks as students’ third most important decision factor, only behind academic strength and affordability. 

Pursuing higher education is a serious investment and stakeholders expect a return from it. As Horn says, “Students are not showing up as much to full degree programs. They are choosing shorter upskilling programs and making choices that will help them advance to their career goals more prepared.”

Graduates are struggling to find work experience opportunities. In the U.K., 39% of international students do not have work experience when graduating, which is rarely by choice. It can happen because of immigration rules, COVID-19, and high competition, but most students blame it on their lack of job-ready skills.

2. Employability Drives Enrollment

As Shireman explains, “Student decision-making has changed. The ROI of a degree program is now a key priority when choosing a university. Traditional recruitment methods no longer work and employability is now really important for universities to think about when enrolling students.” 

Seventy-three percent of students believe that one of the key factors of their post-high school journey is whether there is a direct path to a stable career. Only 40% feel prepared for a life of work, 1 in every 3 students think they will graduate with the necessary skills for future employment, and less than 50% are considering a four-year college experience. These are indicators that universities need to step up their recruiting game and develop better strategies that include employability.

3. A Four-year Degree May Not Be Right for Everyone, but Still Holds Value

Higher education seems like an obvious step after high school, but it’s not for everyone. Many scholars are switching to skills-based learning. A growing number of organizations offer cost-effective courses, certificates, and degrees that people can get in a shorter period of time. 

Employers seem to care more about the experience and skills a prospective employee can bring to their company than if they have a renowned degree. Many tech companies have launched customized apprenticeship programs that help shape and form their future workforce. For example, Career Academy from Coursera offers individuals the ability to build skills and earn industry certifications from some of the world’s leading companies. 

Nevertheless, as Horn explains, “A traditional education teaches durable skills that are necessary for a successful future.” It will teach students how to think critically, write for different disciplines, do in-depth analyses, and much more. These human skills are as necessary for life and work as job-ready skills.

4. The Key to Success: Blending Both Digital and Human Skills  

Universities have the opportunity to reconsider their value proposition and what differentiates them. They need to adapt to a changing world and reframe their traditional learning methods since the vast majority of companies have some automation technology, and most jobs require a basic level of digital skills. 

“The evidence is pretty clear, universities need a subtle shift,” says Horn. “The real secret sauce? Do the traditional education, but pair it with digital skills to prepare your students to go into the workforce with the basic skills they’ll need.”

By incorporating digital and human skills into their curriculum, they will offer higher-quality outcomes for students and increase their appeal in the job market.

A strategic partnership can make all the difference. Joining forces with e-learning platforms like Coursera can help them offer access to digital learning models that can better prepare students for the workplace. Partnering with a vetted provider saves the institution from doing all the work and allows them to focus on what they know best: academic knowledge.  

In short: a partnership strategy means better-qualified students, a more equipped future workforce, higher reach for students through digital learning, and a combination of academic knowledge and real-world digital skills. 

Watch the full webinar here.

The post What Colleges and Universities Can Do Right Now to Make Their Students More Employable appeared first on Coursera Blog.

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