Ep. 260: Skilling Up with Win-Win Employer Partnerships at Maryville University

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Dr. Mark Lombardi, President of Maryville University, has a passion for the power of co-creating academic programs with local employers. Rather than insisting degree programs as-is are the exact match for employers’ upskilling priorities, he takes a contemporary approach to prepare students for the workforce.

Listening and responding to industry

Higher education has always provided a foundational skill set for employment growth after graduation. With courses and programs tailored to specific industries, education aims to provide the experiences and knowledge necessary for succeeding in the workforce. 

However, the world of education has been known to be slow to respond to constantly changing industries, failing to always prepare students to hit the ground running after graduation. This can leave students confused and frustrated, as they are somewhat unprepared for the day-to-day demands and expectations from their employers. It also creates a system where employers struggle to find employees that are ready to work without intensive and timely training. 

According to Dr. Mark Lombardi, there is a solution to this longstanding problem. 

Listening to the needs of businesses across industries is the first step in the collaboration between higher education and employers

How the modularization of curricula can serve students and the workforce

Dr. Mark Lombardi emphasizes the importance of skill building, as opposed to traditional educational approaches. In addition to working with employers, he suggests there is great value to modularizing modern curricula.

When students participate in higher education, they either complete the program and receive a degree, or they leave it for whatever reason and receive nothing. Ultimately, the current education system creates an environment that uses a pass-or-fail approach rather than rewarding students with recognition for the standards and skills developed.

By breaking down curricula into different components, students would be able to receive recognition throughout their educational experience. In addition, by leaving the all-or-nothing mindset behind, they can prove skills in areas distinct to industry needs.

Not only would this offer a way to measure progress and highlight skills and knowledge for students, but it would also allow employers to determine if candidates are the right fit.

Students would also have greater opportunities for employment throughout their education.

The price of failing to upskill

According to Dr. Mark Lombardi, upskilling America’s current and future workforce is not an option. In fact, those that fail to upskill will have a hefty price to pay.

Education is beginning to adapt and follow this movement towards modularization. When the system of modularization and listening and responding to employer needs come together, a cohesive relationship begins. Unfortunately, this means that those who don’t increase and improve their skillset will likely be pushed out of employment and replaced with the next generation of better-adept workers. 

To remain competitive in a job market that requires increasingly specialized degrees and experiences, Americans with little to no higher education or upskilling risk being replaced.

While it is up to each individual to find a way to upskill or add more value to their experience and knowledge, educational institutions also play a role in providing modern training and education.

By embracing the modularization of curricula, higher education institutions can create more easily accessible programs. Further, by implementing the feedback of employers, a better, more innovative workforce can be built.

Higher education can’t remain slow to respond to the evolving needs of the workforce. Dr. Mark Lombardi insists that change is necessary, and it needs to occur quickly.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Mark Lombardi, President at Maryville University. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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