Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning


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, 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 July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 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. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. 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.


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