Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning

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Wally BostonThe January 14-20, 2017 issue of The Economist includes a special report on the topic of lifelong learning. The writers note that lifelong learning today mainly benefits high achievers and likely leads to increased inequality. The classic model of education that provides many years of learning during youth, supplemented by training at work, is breaking down. In fact, on-the-job training in the U.S. is shrinking, and more and more people doubt that a four-year degree is worth the cost. During the 19th and 20th centuries, countries worldwide saw major improvements in education. The Economist argues that we should seek similar breakthroughs today.

The writers note that while many believe that more formal education is the solution to finding a job in our technologically-advancing society, the reality is somewhat different. From 1982-2001, Americans with bachelor’s degrees saw a 31% increase in their average wages. However, during the next 12 years, bachelor’s graduate salaries decreased by more than for those with high school degrees. Furthermore, Canadian economists published a paper in 2013 showing that the share of high-skilled jobs has decreased in America since 2000, causing college graduates to displace less-educated workers for jobs less cognitively demanding. Technology forces change and, in many occupations, acquiring new job skills has become necessary as traditional ones have lost relevance.

Corporations are looking to human resources to develop learners for jobs yet to be invented. Investments in micro-, nano- and traditional degrees are increasing for employees identified as lifelong learners. New technologies enable people to be more aware of their thought processes, while learning which translate to be able to acquire new skills throughout their lengthy career.

One of the articles I found particularly interesting is, “Pathway dependency….how to turn a qualification into a salary.” Years ago, students attended college thinking that somehow a degree would lead to a job offer better than they could have received after high school. Today, the standard practice of most employers is to seek specific experience before they will hire an entry-level candidate. Whether it’s the fault of the educator or the employer, there is a need for career pathways.

Some countries traditionally offer vocational education. While one-third to one-half of later-stage secondary students in Europe are on a vocational path, the U.S., in contrast, lacks a formal vocational education tradition. Coding bootcamps and nanodegrees are sample pathways recently created in the U.S. to lead those graduates to jobs since those specialized programs were created with employer feedback. While vocational programs may help with that initial job, technology continues to eliminate many jobs and people who continually move between jobs  may need help at reskilling or adjusting to the new position. In fact, a 2015 Hoover Institution study found that workers with a vocational education are more likely to withdraw from the workforce as they age because of a reluctance or inability to retrain.

Large companies may be able to offer their employees internal pathways to reskilling, but many workers will need outside assistance to decide what route to take. Counseling is one area likely to see increased demand. LinkedIn provides data to its members about jobs and, with the purchase of Lynda.com, it also offers low-cost courses.

Lifelong learning is not something that will easily end income inequality. In fact, it may increase the disparity. The Economist writers think that unions may become more important in a world of increasing self-employment. Collective bargaining agreements will likely see more rights to paid leave for training. Governments may also get into the reskilling act and Singapore’s Skills-Future initiative is cited as one that appears to be working well.

I’m not surprised by anything I read in this report. If I had funding from an education foundation, I would send a reprint to every college president and board member in America. The report is fairly short and succinct, but bluntly honest about how the approach to learning has to change if colleges and employers are to prepare students and workers for a future that will involve frequent reskilling and a lifelong learning pathway for success.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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