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Part of Western Governors University

January 9, 2021

It's time for New Year's solutions.

Man looking out window at sunrise

By WGU Team

After months of a global health crisis, economic hardship, and civil unrest, New Year’s resolutions for 2021 are certain to go beyond vows to drink more water or finally start using that gym membership. For many, the need for large-scale change is far more essential.

People need jobs. People need reliable access to internet. People need flexibility, support, and affordable options to advance their education and careers.

The 12 million people out of work in the U.S. aren’t setting goals to watch less TV. They’re assessing their options and looking to policymakers, higher education institutions, and business leaders for viable ways to reenter the workforce. So, how can we help people who are eager to work gain the skills and competencies needed to find new pathways to opportunity in the post-pandemic economy?

Those who are best positioned to help must consider ways they can leverage their organizations to smooth the path.

Policymakers.

What are some of the policy supports being run in state legislatures or local government that could support both learners seeking skills and employees returning to work?

In the wake of COVID-19, there is an unprecedented opportunity to remake education and workforce policy. WGU’s State Policy Playbook can offer a useful framework to help guide better access to affordable, relevant training programs and a common-sense approach to regulations and licensure.

Educational institutions.

When the pandemic began, higher education institutions had to rethink the traditional “one size fits all” approach and explore new methods of learning and student support.  As the threat of COVID subsides and the real work of recovery begins, learners will look for education and training options that fit their needs. Flexibility will be key. Higher ed should resolve to:

  • Align learning with workplace needs. Competency-based education (CBE) is based on the skills most needed for career success. Those making mid-career switches need programs that allow them to progress in a way that is both flexible to their circumstances and acknowledges prior learning and experience. Through CBE, students can accelerate their progress, saving both time and money and gaining the skills and competencies they need to thrive.
  • Adopt a tech-first mentality. Most universities already offer online courses and have moved learning online in response to the pandemic, but far more should be done to realize the potential of online learning. Online learning can create opportunities for millions of Americans whose lives can’t accommodate fixed schedules at physical locations. But more than that, technology can enable personalized pacing and learning pathways, facilitate relationships, and drive student engagement.
  • Rethink funding pathways. Tuition and fees for a four-year degree have increased at a substantially faster rate than wages since the 1980s. Students are graduating with high rates of debt and are already two steps behind financially when they start their post-college career. It’s time to rethink how to fund higher education and look for ways to increase students’ return on investment.

Business leaders.

Individuals need access to affordable lifelong learning loops where they can develop skills to meet workforce demands. For many people, these opportunities are most accessible through their current employment. When businesses use partnerships to advance the skills and knowledge of their workforce, everyone wins.

For example, WGU’s partnership with Kenzie Academy provides stackable pathways that meet learners where they are and deliver the training needed to build career success.

Similarly, our partnership with Per Scholas, which provides tuition-free training to underemployed or unemployed individuals in the IT sector, connects talented individuals with opportunities to progress toward a degree with the flexibility to continue working and maintaining economic stability.

As higher education embraces skill-based learning and communities face workforce development challenges, these partnerships demonstrate a promising pathway to post-pandemic success.

In the coming year, we have a chance to learn from the experiences of 2020 and work together to improve access to education, plan for better outcomes, and strengthen the workforce. WGU partners with community leaders, policymakers, and fellow educators to lead innovation in higher education and create accessible, affordable pathways to workforce-relevant degree and credentialing programs. If you are interested in exploring ways to join us, contact governmentrelations@wgu.edu

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