The “60-year curriculum” and the elevation of career services

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The “60-year curriculum” reflects a new educational model in which students take a series of courses and programmes throughout their lives to remain relevant in the workforce
  • The model extends the notion of a higher education student being a young 20-something to a student of any age, at any point in their career, opening up a wealth of opportunity for education providers
  • Key to incorporating the trend is understanding the key role of career services professionals, whose function – in leading universities and colleges – is now being “elevated” and integrated into leadership circles
  • A demonstrably strong career services capability – increasingly reflected in graduate employment outcomes made publicly available – is a competitive advantage in recruitment

The past few years have witnessed an exceptionally rapid evolutionary phase in higher education, one driven in large part by the globalised, digitised economy’s incessant hunger for new skills.

Students know they need up-to-the-minute, hands-on skills and work experience to get the jobs they want, and this knowledge is creating demand for shorter, more practical, affordable, and technologically grounded programmes and courses. Degrees are still relevant, but they are increasingly regarded as one element in a lifelong series of credentials that may be obtained at several types of institution. Linkages between universities, colleges, and vocational institutes are becoming more common as a result.

Never before have industry and employers been more interested in what’s going on at universities and colleges, more involved in delivering curriculum and work placements, and more dependent on close links with institutions for their hiring needs. They need an ongoing stream of potential candidates to fuel their own need to adapt and evolve in order to stay in business.

The 60-year curriculum

It’s a whole new era characterised by what we might envision as a flow of learning, one in which students enter in and out of programmes and institutions throughout their careers to keep getting jobs that they want or need. Gary Matkin, the dean of the Division of Continuing Education and vice provost of the Division of Career Pathways at the University of California at Irvine, has coined a term for it: “the 60-year curriculum.”

The term describes an upgrade of a more informal understanding of “lifelong learning.” The 60-year curriculum is all about staying relevant in a highly competitive workforce.

Speaking with the New York Times, Huntington D. Lambert, the dean of the Division of Continuing Education and University Extension at Harvard University explained that:

“The real driver of the 60-year curriculum is the job market and length of life. The employee of the future typically will have a new job every five years, probably for 60 to 80 years, and probably every one of those will require skills you did not learn in college.”

The New York Times describes the model as including “some, or all of these elements”:

“Micro-credentials or badges, which are mini-degrees in specific competency areas; portable transcripts, degrees and credentials that move with the student rather than stay with the institution; a variety of ways for students to attend classes — in person, via video calls or online; more connections between continuing education and a university’s undergraduate and graduate programmes; and greater support over the long haul through advisers, financial aid and career services.”

Lifelong learning stimulates demand for career coaching

Christopher Dede, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, notes that as students progress in their careers, “they’re looking for a kind of sustained coaching that isn’t necessarily tied to a particular institution, but someone who understands the whole map of potential support services that they might need.”

Rovy Branon, vice provost at the University of Washington Continuum College (the continuing education and professional development division of the University of Washington in Seattle) calls this sustained coaching position a “learning concierge.”

Such a position is not limited to helping the student navigate study pathways but rather tasked with managing a university “network,” where the network includes professors, student support services, partner institutions or programmes (e.g., pathway programmes, language institutes), employers, and local/regional communities.

The “elevation” of career services

Farouk Dey, associate vice provost of Student Affairs and dean of Career Education at Stanford University, and Christine Y. Cruzvergara, director of University Career Services at George Mason University, have published a paper entitled “The Evolution of Career Services in Higher Education.” In it, they explain that the new era of “employment accountability” in higher education – i.e., where students now expect universities and university staff to lead them to desired jobs – is elevating the function of career services. The authors note:

“The current transformation in career services requires the acquisition of additional resources, elevating the leadership of career centres to higher levels of influence, designing new and creative organisational structures, and establishing stronger coordinated campus partnerships.

Senior leaders in higher education are beginning to recognise the direct link career services has to recruitment, retention, and revenue for an institution. As a result, many are elevating career services, giving their leadership more institutional influence and the ability to convene internal and external stakeholders in order to help students leverage the power of the university network. Elevation includes changes to titles, reporting lines, and resources.”

Career services as a competitive advantage

With the exception of some cutting-edge colleges and universities, most institutions would do well to devote more resources and to further “elevate” the function of career services. As we reported recently, research shows the extent to which students are now prioritising employment outcomes in their decisions as to where to study:

  • A survey by market research firm Decision Lab and the International Alumni Job Network (IAJN) found that the top two reasons motivating Australian, American, British, Canadian, European, and New Zealand alumni to study abroad were to improve career opportunities (81%) and to pursue a specific career (43%).
  • According to QS Enrolment Solutions’ 2018 International Students Survey (of 70,000 students worldwide), the top factor influencing choice of course was “It leads to my chosen career” (74%), ahead of “high-quality teaching” (67%) and “affordable tuition” (53%).
  • QS’s 2015 How Do Students Use Rankings? study asked students in several countries why they would choose an internationally ranked university. Nearly two-thirds (62%) chose “employment prospects” and 45% chose “connections worldwide.” By comparison, only 34% chose “quality of education” and 28% chose “student experience.”

Furthermore, a 2019 Australian research study by Studiosity found that three-quarters of student respondents thought that universities “had a responsibility to help [students] find employment.” Judyth Sachs, Studiosity’s chief academic officer and a former provost at Sydney’s Macquarie University, said that such attitudes reflected students’ “sense of ‘I’m paying for a service, and this is a service that I expect.’”

In the US, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported in 2016 that “colleges and universities could be required to report [employment] outcomes for new college graduates by 2021.” At that time, 90% of NACE members said they expected this to be the case, and hundreds of colleges are now reporting such data. Needless to say, prospective students are making decisions on the basis of such information.

In Canada, a 2015 McKinsey & Company study found that 83% of educators surveyed felt youth are prepared for work – compared with only 34% of employers and 44% of youth. In an early-2019 opinion piece penned for leading Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, Scott Stirrett, founder and CEO of Venture for Canada (a non-profit connecting graduates to entrepreneurial opportunities across Canada) and Parm Gill, managing partner of the Gill Group (a division of Scotiabank Canada) expressed the opinion that,

“Postsecondary institutions need to make their graduates’ employment outcomes a top institutional priority, implement enhanced career readiness support and collaborate with employers to develop relevant work-ready skills in students.”

The time is now

Universities and colleges are at a crucial stage in their evolution: Those that will survive and thrive will clearly demonstrate that they can prepare students – and connect them – to the world of work. A recent global survey by Pearson found that many students, across multiple countries, are questioning the value of traditional higher education, so there’s no time to lose.

As we reported earlier this year, students are now turning to new rankings that highlight institutions with impressive rates of graduate employability, such as QS’s Graduate Employability Rankings and Times Higher Education’s Global University Employability Rankings, and they pore over school websites and marketing collateral for evidence that the overall student experience:

  • Includes meaningful linkages with industry and/or professional groups;
  • Incorporates work experience projects and internships;
  • Features career guidance, support, and networking events;
  • Results in good jobs obtained within a short time;
  • Produces graduates who go on to have distinguished careers.

Investing in career services is a trend on the rise, and one well worth integrating into organisational structures, culture, and marketing as soon as possible.

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