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Career Insights

Bridging the Gap Between Learning and Earning

Interview with Ann Kirschnerr

Ann Kirschner on how colleges can better prepare students for the workforce

Higher education has reached an inflection point. Institutions of all varieties now face increasing pressure from students to provide a cost-effective education, with flexible learning options, that prepares them for jobs and careers. Ann Kirschner, a pioneer in digital media who is currently a professor of urban education at the City University of New York, has spent her career thinking about how colleges can better serve their students. Kirschner recently spoke with author and podcaster Ben Wildavsky* about how colleges can best adapt to today’s rapidly changing education and work environment.

What are the biggest changes we need to see in higher ed today?

First, colleges need to take specific steps to support students getting a job, such as developing resume and interview skills. At a higher level, there needs to be a connection between educational institutions and the private sector. Colleges also need to repackage coursework and credentials in a more bite-sized way, so there’s value for students at every link in the chain. Finally, knowing that college graduates are likely to have 10 or more jobs in their career, colleges need to prepare students to be lifelong learners.

Are liberal arts schools and elite institutions ready to embrace change on the scale you’re envisioning?

Some institutions may feel that change is coming, but it’s not coming here. And the truth is that for maybe 20 institutions in the U.S., it’s not necessary to change because they have massive endowments; there’s a moat around them that is deep and wide, and it’s built with bricks of money. Even for these institutions, though, change will come. And that’s because in order for them to keep attracting and retaining the very best talent, they’ll need to be flexible. The question is, how do we scale this change without compromising the quality of education?

What can traditional colleges and universities learn from for-profit institutions, and vice versa?

I would like to see traditional institutions have the sense of accountability and speed that you find in the for-profit sector. Reforming education doesn’t have to take five or 10 years. What about the millions of students who are enrolled in college today and need to find jobs when they graduate? For-profit institutions, on the other hand, have to be sure to have a curriculum that is appropriately rigorous and honest. 

* Excerpted from an April 25, 2022, interview on The Higher Ed Spotlight Podcast.

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