5 steps to align your academic programs to the job market

The economy is changing at a rapid pace—your curricula should do the same

Today's job market changes faster than ever before, which means colleges and universities may find it challenging to keep academic programs up-to-date. 

Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sean Gallagher offers tips for ensuring students will learn the skills they need to succeed in their future careers.

1. Let employers play a part in developing curricula

Faculty members shouldn't be the only major players in designing academic programs, says Gallagher. Employers and industry groups should have a say in the skills and competencies that students acquire.

These skills will often be technical in nature, says Gallagher, but they will frequently align with liberal arts core competencies as well. Job markets today increasingly demand analysis, critical thinking, and writing.

2. Don't shy away from new job-market software

Software today can analyze millions of job postings for trends, which schools can then use to adjust their curricula. The information is easily accessible with the right technology.

Third-party companies such as LinkedIn can also provide valuable insight, answering questions about graduate employment trends and in-demand skills.

3. Update curricula frequently

The job market is changing at a rapid pace, says Gallagher; your curricula should be changing just as rapidly.

"Academe's current systems of curricular design and governance were built for an earlier era," says Gallagher.

Institutions can learn from nonacademic professional credential providers like Udacity and Pluralsight, who adjust their offerings frequently and are not, as Gallagher says, "constrained by agrarian academic calendars, faculty politics, and annual approval cycles."

Tackling the "soft" skills gap

4. "Unbundle" your program offerings

Because employers often want specialized skills, institutions may have to break apart their traditional degree programs that group multiple skills together.

When students pick and choose among individual credentials, they can cater their education toward specific job demands.

"Employers are moving toward competency-based hiring, and more rigorously matching actual job requirements to candidates' abilities," says Gallagher. "Higher-education credentials must operate at a higher resolution in this new landscape."

Unbundling curricula can also make credentials more affordable and provide alternatives to a traditional degree, Gallagher adds. 

5. Offer real-world work experience

Institutions, students, and employers alike are favoring real-world job opportunities within academe. Schools should consider integrating:

  • Internships;
  • E-portfolios;
  • Capstone projects;
  • Corporate residencies; and
  • Cooperative education (co-ops).

Because many of these opportunities now occur virtually, Gallagher writes, employers can digitally pinpoint the value of a students' academic credentials (Gallagher, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/23).

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