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The Enterprise Paradox: Higher Education and How to Solve It


Thu Nov 11 2021

The Enterprise Paradox: Higher Education and How to Solve It

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Consider these two statements that you have, undoubtedly, heard many times:

  • “I didn’t learn anything during my five years at college that prepared me with the skills I need for my job.”

  • I can’t get the job I want without a college degree.”

If you’re thinking these statements contradict each other, it’s because they do.


Why Recruitment Practices Screen for Degrees

Employers and recruitment practices require a college degree for applications just to apply for jobs. Many entry-level positions that should not intuitively require a university qualification still do. Like it or not, this is the system we live in, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. The most important reason why this will not change is inertia. College degrees are a crude and efficient way for employers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Could there be a gem of a candidate with the perfect skill set and personality without a degree? Of course. But who wants to painstakingly go through hundreds of resumes when 65 percent of candidates can be eliminated based on the holding—or not—of a degree.

A college degree, then, is less about education and skills and more about a ticket to enter the game. And at four or more years and $120,000, that’s a mighty expensive entry ticket.

Why Enterprise Supports Degrees for Staff

When it comes to staff, many organizations support their employees with tuition assistance to obtain college degrees. You might think at this stage that enterprise is supporting quality skills and education, but you would be wrong. Even the largest platforms for tuition reimbursement, don’t mention the relevance or use of the degree. This seems like another paradox. Why would an enterprise support education that doesn’t benefit the organization? The reason is that it serves a different yet important purpose: reducing rehiring fees and increasing retention.

The bottom line is that college does little to help students gain the skills they need to get a job nor does it help existing staff with the skills they need for a particular job.

Solving The Higher Education Dimema for Enterprise

If we accept the fact that recruiters will continue to screen based on degrees and that enterprise will continue to support staff to obtain degrees, then the solution seems obvious: design degrees that provide skills that will assist an individual’s career. Something seemingly so obvious has eluded American colleges for decades. We continue to teach Latin dance, Viking history, and algebra classes but don’t teach students how to use office technology, network, or build customer relationships.


The US system is not going to change for many reasons. Universities are too slow to adapt. Universities have misaligned goals to students (such as research rankings and publications). Accreditation rules mandate general education studies. Bureaucracy and red tape kill new initiatives before they are even conceived.

Because education was tied to the classroom, US domestic institutions had a hold on higher education. You either worked within the rigid domestic higher education system, attended on campus, or didn’t get a degree.

A World of Opportunity

The world of online learning has provided flexibility for students to attend domestic colleges, and it has broken down geographical barriers to attend any university anywhere in the world. This opportunity alters the playing field. Many international degrees from the world’s most recognized higher education markets, such as the UK, have specialized, career-focused degrees. A student who wants to work in digital marketing can study for a bachelor of digital marketing degree. A student who wants to launch their own start-up can study for a bachelor of entrepreneurship. No more Viking history means a degree can be done in half the time, at a 10th of the cost, and applied directly to the student’s skills needs or the strategic development needs of an enterprise.

A World of Opportunity for MBA Students Too

The global opportunities are not restricted to undergraduate students. In the US, students must complete a bachelor’s degree in order to enroll into an MBA or a master’s program. But we all know there are many paths to success without a college degree, as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Mark Zuckerberg could attest to. But these recognized business leaders would be denied entry if they applied for a US master’s program. Using the UK again as an example, managers can enter an MBA program based on managerial experience instead of a bachelor’s degree. The result is a more open and flexible model that accepts the reality that we do not all come with the same background and experiences.

The future of workplace education requires the opening of models to focus directly on advancing career skills for staff and solving strategic challenges for organizations. Through this lens, education can finally tick all the boxes: a recognized, accredited degree that also provides a quality, relevant career-focused education.


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