The Altered State of Graduate Education

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In the fluid learning economy in which we operate today, more people than ever are seeking to update, or acquire new skills. The last 20 years have completely disrupted the fields of journalism, marketing, music, publishing, travel, retail and many others.

The shift from a knowledge economy to a learning economy – i.e. one where employees are valued for what they know versus one where they are valued for what they are able to learn – is changing the way people seek to be educated.

“Employers want curious people who value lifelong learning,” said Dr. R. Fleming Puckett, Senior Director and National Meeting Speaker at the Educational Advisory Board (EAB), a research company for the education industry.

The Need for New Skills, Quickly
More demand for updated skills should translate to increased attendance in post-graduate educational programs – and it does. While undergraduate applications are projected to increase 17% from 2017- 2022, the expectations for graduate school applications are more than double that, according to the EAB.

But that pales in comparison to the threefold hike in certificate programs expected in this five year period. Many Americans are seeking upgraded skills, but quick and easy, without a fat student loan to add to their already burdensome student debt. That has graduate programs across the country scrambling to provide fast-track curricula that today’s working student seeks.

Whatever Happened to Online Courses?
A decade ago, many educational industry analysts expected online learning to begin replacing in-person learning. Certainly, the online space has blossomed, but it turns out that students like to meet their professors and fellow students in-person and have class with them at least occasionally.  The Educational Advisory Board reports that 78% of students involved in distance learning live within 100 miles of campus, and 75% of them visited campus at least once during the semester. The future of education, it turns out, is more complicated than just taking a course on a screen.

The upshot is that students in South Carolina are far less likely to attend online courses – whether master’s degree or certificate – entirely online through a school with no physical presence. They are still attending USC, Clemson, SC State, College of Charleston and other Palmetto State schools. 

Certificate programs at CofC for Gifted and Talented Education and ESL Teaching, and at The Citadel for Project Management and Systems Engineering Management, have flourished at the Lowcountry Graduate Center for just that reason.

Millennials Filling Seats
With a decline in international students due to anxieties about the current presidential administration, concerns about travel restrictions and fear for personal safety in the U.S., graduate schools have had to increase the sophistication of their marketing to recruit students. This dovetails with entry into the workforce of the last Millennials, a generation notorious for its desire to skip from job to job, and even career to career. These 80 million Americans will need re-educational opportunities to lubricate their moves.

The marketing strategies to capture these students are going to be the province of Millennials themselves, for no Baby Boomer can compete with what is now an eight-second attention span in the average American, or the native distrust of advertising Millennials display. These strategies will focus on reviews and word-of-mouth – often an electronic mouth – to connect the growing number of people seeking new skills with the dizzying array of options hoping to meet that demand.

One thing will definitely not change: education will continue to be the key to success.