Recently, 900 academic industry leaders from private and public colleges and universities, as well as education service providers and corporations were surveyed about the issues confronting higher education. The results were telling. Only 49 percent of industry and academic leaders said higher education meets student needs and only 41 percent said it meets industry needs. Further, only 43 percent of respondents said higher education prepares students with necessary workforce skills. Meanwhile, the cost of post-secondary education  is soaring and 75 percent of Americans believe college is too expensive for the average family. 

If this was a test, higher education would receive an F. 

Technological innovation and industry demands are now moving too rapidly for higher education to keep pace and the current higher education system doesn’t sufficiently equip students with the skills required to be competitive. To address this problem, the education system requires a fundamental transformation driven by three key strategies:

Prioritize creation of more practical applied curricula Embrace new technologies to improve educational access, experiences, variety and outcomes Build and expand relationships among higher education institutions, employers and other partners with comprehensive and far-reaching education ecosystems Strategy #1: Prioritize Creation of More Practical Applied Curricula

Unfortunately the skills college graduates need for workforce success are the same skills they most lack, including analysis and problem solving; collaboration and team work; business-context communication; and flexibility, agility and adaptability. Seventy-one percent of corporate recruiters surveyed said finding applicants with sufficient practical experience was their greatest single challenge when recruiting from higher education institutions.

The solution to this is experienced-based learning and internships and apprenticeships. By offering more practical and applied education experiences, institutions help students apply the knowledge gained through coursework in real-world settings.

Strategy #2: Embrace New Technologies 

For the most part, today’s higher education experience is not in synch with Millennial students who use mobile and social technologies and are accustomed to immediately accessing data and instantly communicating. At the same time, technologies such as social, mobile, analytics, cloud, 3D printing, robotics and cognitive computing are impacting industry workforce requirements around the globe. 

Surprisingly, many education and industry leaders do not fully acknowledge technology’s potential in education: only 51 percent believe technology benefits outweigh adoption costs. To better meet customer expectations, industry leaders need to embrace technology’s ability to promote access to education, deepen educational experiences, expand the variety of experiences available and improve student outcomes.

Strategy #3: Build and Expand Relationships

To fully exploit technology’s potential, higher education leaders must collaborate more closely with industry leaders. Industry and academic leaders agree that increased partnership is necessary for higher education improvement. Specifically, 57 percent agree collaboration is necessary to effectively deliver higher education to students, while 56 percent believe collaboration is necessary during curriculum development. 

This need for stronger alliances between higher education and industry is symptomatic of the sector’s broader transformation from a traditional model into a new economic structure: an ecosystem. In the emerging higher education ecosystem, one-on-one relationships will be supplemented and replaced by multiple player engagement – a network of organizations contributing to system-wide outcomes. 

Several elements are critical to creating and sustaining effective higher education ecosystems: 

Civic engagement and strong leadership from industry  Strong connections with government leaders, particularly regional economic development organizations and workforce development boards Intermediary organizations that serve as the ecosystem orchestrators A common vision and long-term charter that clearly defines commitments, provides for accountability mechanisms through transparency, aligns with larger economic and workforce development strategies, institutionalizes processes and formalizes commitments Early wins to keep the business community engaged as partners Collaborative data sharing to enable better signaling of what jobs and skills are in demand Click here to learn more about strategies for transforming higher education.