The need for lifelong learning in the reimagined university
Every institution of higher education aspires to create lifelong learners, but at present, the life of learning that graduates go on to is largely separate from their college institutions.
University System of Georgia, College 2025 Initiative
In Wikipedia, lifelong learning is defined as “the ongoing, voluntary, and self- motivated pursuit of knowledge either for personal or professional reasons.” The definition recognizes that learning is not confined to childhood or to the classroom but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations.
The Oxford dictionary defines lifelong learning as the practice of continuing to learn throughout one’s life to foster the continuous development and skills needed for employment and personal fulfillment.
Both definitions recognize the need for continuous learning throughout one’s life.
I have defined the reimagined university as the by-product of the new higher education world post COVID-19. Reimagined universities are led by chief executives who have both the vision and ability to champion new ways of leading their institutions. These chief executives think from the end and are open to retiring outdated business models and entrenched administrative silos. These chief executives know how the world works and know that their connection to their students should not end at graduation.
This article will connect the intersection of lifelong learning with the reimagined university.
Need for lifelong learning
Continuous skilling will be required of college and university graduates. Employees will need to continually upgrade their skills through short-term programs and stackable credentials.
Peter Cohen, president, University of Phoenix
In a World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, one of the forum’s conclusions is that the primary driver of change in global business is the evolution of flexible working environments populated with employees with critical thinking, adaptable, and flexible skills.
In their report, the State of Workforce Transformation, Udacity conducted a survey of more than 600 learning and innovation leaders across institutions in North America. The survey revealed that business leaders are united in the belief that their organizations must reskill employees to master new technologies. An astonishing 87% of respondents believe workforce development is critical. 83% also concluded that they have a troubling skills gap in their organizations.
Key findings from the QS Global Employer Survey and the QS Applicant Survey 2018 report reveals that the skills gap of college and university students is a global and widespread issue and exists across regions and countries posing a challenge to employers around the world.
Apart from alumni who return to pursue post-graduate study at the masters and doctoral level, most college and university graduates have little educational interaction with their alma mater throughout the rest of their lives.
In the May 14, 2020 issue of Forbes magazine, Ann Kirschner makes the case that the road to recovery for colleges and universities after the pandemic lies through change and innovation. She suggests that instead of having a narrow interpretation and mission for a school’s career services department, a new department headed by a Dean-of-the Rest-of Your-Life be created. Ms. Kirschner recommends that the new dean should be charged with building strategic employment partnerships and with tracking changing job markets.
The shift will require institutions to transform from a single educational time period model to a lifelong educational journey.
University System of Georgia College 2025 Initiative
Lifelong learning in the reimagined university
In the reimagined university the importance of career counseling and lifelong learning shifts from the end of a student’s academic career to the beginning. Admission acceptance packets include information from the career services staff, including the types of available internships, career counseling seminars, and a list of career counselors.
Information on lifelong learning services are also included in the acceptance packet setting the stage for the accepted student to realize that learning begins from the time of acceptance and continues through enrollment, to graduation, and after graduation.
Accepted applicants who decide to defer enrollment for a semester or a year are offered credit-bearing projects to complete before enrollment.
Current students are offered, on a regular basis, seminars designed to enhance job readiness.
A dean of career counseling and lifelong learning is appointed by an institution’s president or vice-chancellor and holds a seat on the cabinet.
In the reimagined university a career counseling and lifelong learning committee includes the director of career counseling, the director of lifelong learning, academic deans, representatives from the admission, research and alumni offices, the registrar, faculty with industry experience, and an outside representative from industry.
The committee, in concert with academic deans, develops lists of lifelong learning courses available to graduates and also provides information on courses offered in partnership with alternative educational providers, like Udacity, Google, and Coursera.
The committee works with the registrar to design a transcript listing not just the courses taken during a student’s academic career, but the competencies learned in each course. J. Philipp Schmidt, director of learning rethinking at the MIT Media Lab put it best: The purpose of credentials is changing. They are moving from a sorting mechanism to a representation of a person’s competency.
Example of lifelong learning
College and university students want to leave college with relevant and transferable skills needed for employment success after graduation. The following is one example of how this goal can be achieved.
The Nexus Degree at the University of Georgia is a 60-credit-hour degree, consisting of 42 credit hours in general education courses and 18 credit hours of coursework focusing on the skills and knowledge requirements of a major industry. The 18 credits create an apprenticeship-internship aspect that must include at least six credit hours of experiential learning and at least 12 credits hours of upper division coursework.
This is an example of an educational curriculum that lends itself to lifelong learning and earning stackable credentials.
After the pandemic, a revolution in education and work awaits. No job, no K-12 school, no university will be spared. The nature of work, workplace, and the workforce will be transformed.
Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, Op Ed, October 20, 2020
While COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of higher education, it has also created many opportunities, including the opportunity for institutions of higher education to create an environment for lifelong learning as an integral part of the college and university experience, from acceptance to enrollment, to graduation, to alumni engagement.
By making lifelong learning, or according to Ravi Kumar, president of the Indian tech company, Infosys, “radical reskilling,” an essential component of the reimagined university, university officials are making it possible not only to increase enrollment but also increase ongoing alumni engagement.