The singular degree is losing value. Apple, Amazon, Google, Netflix, IBM, and Starbucks have made public statements about the fact that a degree really doesn’t matter in a lot of cases for them. The largest and most powerful companies are providing a clear indication of what’s valuable in this new, software-driven gig economy.
It’s a problem with cultural idols, too. Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs don’t or didn’t have college degrees. In this environment, what can a higher education institution do to translate their degrees into employer-facing proficiency stories?
Taylor Kendal, Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado, Denver and Chief Strategy Advisor at Learning Economy, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about translating our degree programs into employer-facing proficiency stories with help from the blockchain.
Can a Learning Ledger on the Blockchain Bridge the Education-Employment Divide?
The transitional question for the traditional system of higher ed is: Can you reinforce a learning ledger cryptographically via technology like the blockchain?
Taylor says it can. “(A learning ledger) provides students with greater flexibility in how they signal their unique skills and competencies and those skill stacks to potential employers. It offers a more granular means of demonstrating those skills and competencies. But it also just pulls friction out of existing systems.”
By friction, he means money. Legacy processes such as transcript issuance can cause friction, costing money that, if saved, could be reinvested in student programs. Technology can help do that.
“That’s just one example,” Taylor said, “of where something like a distributed ledger is likely to start to shift the way we operate within institutions.”
How Will “Skills” Transparency Impact Higher Ed?
“It doesn’t come up often,” Taylor said, “but we like to think of this supply chain of education and work.”
It’s not a linear supply chain like you might think of in other industries, but it’s a supply chain nevertheless, and we need to understand where value is being generated throughout that entire chain of stakeholders. Only a few legacy programs generate value, unfortunately, and many are staying afloat in a lot of ways at the expense of students.
“We’re often relying on either fabricated metrics or just political posturing or even old money and reputation,” Taylor told us. “And I try to be very honest about having seen some of this firsthand.”
Transparency across this entire chain allows us to start being honest about where there are true gaps and also to build a new system that is valuable to every learner equitably across an entire country.
“There are the Ivy Leagues of the world sitting on $20 to $30 billion endowments,” Taylor said. “And to me, there is just deep inequity and power problems within the system as it exists. I think some of these new web 3 technologies, whether it be blockchain or some of the other technology that’s coming about, we can start to bake truth and deep levels of trust into systems and into existence.”
The learning ledger has the potential to level the playing field like we’ve never seen before. But we have to be pretty thoughtful about how these technologies get ultimately built and deployed.
“We’re starting to build systems where you have the code creating governance,” Taylor told us, “and the code itself creating trust in baking the value directly into systems at the most fundamental level.”
As that is ultimately deployed within institutions, it takes the right thinking and the right level of education to do it in a way that’s responsible and doesn’t undermine student privacy and IP.
Next-Steps Advice for Universities Moving to the Blockchain
“My advice would be to embrace radical transparency and honesty whenever possible,” Taylor said. “In many cases, higher ed institutions have been built on a foundation of implicit, but also often explicit insincerity. And I’ve experienced this firsthand.”
Thus, the institutions that surround students will continue to fragment, and we’ll see hybrid models such as boot camps and virtual spaces all converge. Those that are honest about what they can and cannot provide to students will rise to the top.
“There’s a real opportunity for courageous partnerships,” Taylor said, “between institutions that are willing to be adaptive with industry partners.”
There’s a trend towards creating these more fluid relationships with employment. Those will be the ones that establish sustainable feedback loops where they’re able to both gain insight into the latest trends and demands and skills of tomorrow.
“I love this idea of the proficiency stories,” Taylor said. “I love that they’ll also translate those into these proficiency stories, and truly engage and prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow that, again, we know are ever shifting, and many of which we can’t even see today.”
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