The College Devaluation Crisis
Market Disruption, Diminishing ROI, and an Alternative Future of Learning
Jason Wingard


Contents and Abstracts
1 The College Degree:False Panacea or Freighted Promise?
chapter abstract

Why and how the degree, and the education it testified to, has lost its value for the world of work is the first step toward defining what may be needed to replace it, and both the why and the possible replacements represent the linked analyses at the heart of this book. We can best understand why the value of the degree has diminished by analyzing how it gained such value in the first place. How did a certificate warranting that the bearer completed four-year college requirements earn such prominence in our cultural and economic life? And why is that prominence now threatened by alternative notions of skill-building and credentialing?

2 The Arc to the "Golden Age" and Emerging Decline
chapter abstract

For roughly the seventy-five-year period from 1945 to 2020, college has been perceived in the United States as the primary pathway into the middle class, despite the reality that a majority of jobs, across sectors (but excluding professional services), do not actually require a college degree in order to earn a living wage. How did this perception arise, given the fact that, since colonial times, most people have learned the skills that facilitate their work outside of school? What forces made the degree so valuable? Why did the slow evolution of higher education in the United States coexist with a parallel rise in the perception of its value?

3 Competitive Models: Traditional Versus Alternative
chapter abstract

If it is incontrovertible that the value of the college degree is in decline and that a new world of work requires new skills, then it is equally certain that a fresh method of teaching and learning those skills is essential. This chapter examines how and why the traditional model of education—the four-year college leading to a bachelor's degree—is no longer sufficient to achieve that goal. We probe the weaknesses of the model and appraise its strengths to affirm the thesis of this book—that the traditional way of preparing for the world of work has gone past its sell-by date. We propose a new and fundamentally different model for achieving the shared goal of both learners and employers: lifelong learning for continual upskilling to meet market needs and provide individuals with the financial wherewithal and personal fulfillment they seek in a career.

4 College Partnerships
chapter abstract

No one is predicting the end of the traditional college education as a viable pathway to success in life and/or a career. Many students will continue to pursue both the "college experience" and the usefulness or significance they believe a college education can provide. For these students, therefore—and there are a lot of them—the college degree still represents high value. So it is not surprising to find organizations partnering with colleges and universities to enhance their value proposition and lower the barrier to entry. This chapter profiles three organizations that do just that while a fourth case study introduces a university that is pursuing the same goals. Here, therefore, are four entities working to enhance the value of higher education for career-oriented students who will need to be lifelong learners.

5 Employer Partnerships
chapter abstract

Organizations examined in this chapter are explicitly moving education into the workplace. This chapter explores the tools and strategies employers are using to find the right candidates to begin with, to gain insight into their workforce's skills, and to provide additional learning opportunities to their employees.

6 Solo Disruptors
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we'll look at examples of four different pathways to gaining credentials such as micro credentials, digital badges, and certificate programs for skills training. The pathways include industry certifications, apprenticeships, bootcamps, and self-guided courses. None of them requires a prerequisite degree or current employment, and all lead to better job options for the learner. What the case studies offer is a checklist of key findings about what constitutes a high-quality provider of these learning alternatives. That checklist is aimed at making potential learners savvier consumers among the vast array of educational options, while also pointing the way for employers or educational institutions to partner more wisely with alternative education providers as they seek to enhance their own offerings.

7 Bridge-Builders
chapter abstract

This chapter studies the players who are building the infrastructure to enable partners to connect, communicate, and work together effectively. We call them the bridge-builders, creators and operators of the links that make partnership possible; they comprise the translators, the interoperable technologies, the working groups and connectors that support the ecosystem of our alternative education model. The bridge-builder organizations will be analyzed on the basis of their utility as infrastructure connectors—ways in which they add capacity to, build leverage for, and complement the three provider groups.

8 Emergent Themes in Alternative Learning
chapter abstract

In this chapter, we analyze the research, focusing on the "top ten" themes crucial to today's educational and business concerns. The themes are learning theory-based design, corporate culture of learning, cost and access solutions, navigating the learning landscape, adaptive certification, transparent skill exchange, colleges + partnerships = survival, platform outsourcing, soft skills gap, and credential requires brand. Provided within the chapter are first an "explanation" of each theme within the context of what we know from both the case studies and research into documented best practices, and second, a recommended call to action for learners, employers, and providers, as is relevant.

9 Evolving Trends in the Future of Learning
chapter abstract

This final chapter focuses on emerging trends that may help us predict further disruptions and stir yet another season of destabilizing adaptation—hopefully, for the better. We offer our top-five predictions—poised to dramatically affect the future of learning and work. Of course, these are predictions, not recommendations. They constitute informed opinions and projected conjecture based on experience and research, and they are intended solely to inspire further discussion and study. Moreover, each prediction derives from evolving and already noticeable trends; indeed, the expectation is that we will see these predictions come to light in the United States within a period of some five years or so starting from approximately mid-2022, the time of the publication of this book.