How Universities Can Strategically Combat Top Challenges in 2023

It’s been a challenging few years for higher education. The priorities and focus of educational institutions, it’s students, and their potential employers have been switching and changing as we’ve navigated this new working world. Universities must adapt to keep up with this ever-changing modern landscape. 

Recently, we detailed the five challenges universities will face in 2023. With supporting data and research from several industry-leading reports over the course of 2022 and previous years, as well as our insights from working with almost 300 higher education institutions across 45+ countries, these top challenges are:

  1. Employers are hiring for skills over a degree
  2. Students are questioning the ROI of a degree
  3. Curriculum cannot keep up with the technology
  4. The rise of online education
  5. Students value a higher education that can provide career outcomes

We’ve found that universities are leveraging innovation in-house and choosing partners directly tied to employability in proving solutions that focus on the following:

  • Career readiness, 
  • Student retention, and 
  • Increasing overall value.

Join the conversation as we dive deeper into the five ways universities can address these challenges in 2023.

1. Evolve Your Traditional Career Services Model

Employability is now one of the top factors students use to decide on a university, and this is one of the key challenges faced. A 2020 Forbes article noted that ‘the median ratio of students to career services staff sits at 1,583:1 nationally’ with increasing numbers of students seeking career support at the forefront of their degree programming. A natural reaction may be to simply bring more advisors on board, but will that solve the issue universities face?

A Strada report noted that nearly 4 in 10 students have never used their school’s career services resources, including more than one-third of seniors. A survey from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign noted that the top reason students did not take advantage of career services is because they felt there was not a need yet, with higher numbers of first and second-year students agreeing.

So while increased staff in careers services may mean more available appointments, it will not help those early in their degree journey realize that it’s never too early to start taking charge of their future careers, nor will it help guarantee graduates leveraged career services support

Moving from the traditional one-on-one career advising sessions, universities could build a better reach of programming for all students, as well as pathways to traditional support. You could: 

  • Introduce increased job-specific workshops – the most in-demand support requested in the Salesforce Connected Student Report 3rd edition. While these workshops could be stand-alone, building them into a course with the help of faculty would allow students to receive mandatory job-specific support within their degree, as well as career services to build awareness of their support from within the classroom.
  • Build more industry voice and presence into the curriculum. As the half-life of skills is decreasing and the curriculum is quickly becoming outdated, this is a strong way to stay ahead of the times. As career services already hold many great employer connections, increasing the requirements for how often faculty must use industry support and allowing career services to help, would allow students to consistently see industry within their classrooms, build a stronger professional network, and once again build awareness for career services. 
  • Build stronger online tools and guidance. This would include company profiles with key employer connections, explanations of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), remote job search tools and access to strong resume/CV-building guidance. In addition, access to trial these tools within a safe space, and with assistance, will ensure broader understanding and usage.

To ensure career services’ long-term growth and success, they must balance scalable but quality solutions, such as online portals, embedding career support into courses with more traditional one-on-one advising, career fairs, and more. 

In part one of this series, we outlined what the recent NACE report found: employers are decreasing their reliance on GPA as a signaling factor in hiring and instead moving their focus to skills and work experience. To ensure alumni employment outcomes remain high, in the short term, higher education institutions need to infuse their degrees with the skills and competencies employers are looking for

By adapting career advising services, you could ensure students understand what employers are looking for and why. Thus, empowering young people to take charge of their future careers.

To address the intricacies of this challenge in one swoop, universities could provide access to real-world work experiences, where students will develop the necessary employability skills alongside their academic qualifications to launch a successful career post-graduation. 

Access to certifications, real-world work experience, and competency building will continue to have increased recognition and prominence in hiring decisions. Therefore, universities need to pave the way for access to such offerings for students. 


2. Build a dynamic curriculum that requires external industry engagement and updates annually

Previously, when we addressed the challenges universities will face in 2023, we noted that creating a high-quality, well-thought-out curriculum is hard, which is why it takes time. But, this now directly conflicts with the rapidly changing requirements of skills and competencies due to evolving technology.

To ensure that all students walk away feeling that the degree they received was the most relevant and up to date, the curriculum needs to become more agile, allowing for core competencies to be carried throughout the years, while introducing more industry voice and technology updates within the credit-bearing experience. 

For your institution, this could include:

  • Requiring a specific amount of external speakers to join the course. As noted above, this could be eased with a pathway from career services and their already-engaged employer contacts.
  • Embedding increased case studies that are consistently reviewed and updated to reflect the most current trends and challenges.
  • Building in consulting projects or direct work experience. Project-based learning can be completed much like homework assignments – asynchronously and flexibly. This allows all students to walk away with the current industry trends and technical skills, with crucial proof they have applied them in a real-world setting.

By allowing the curriculum to not only have a core structure but to have dynamic moving parts that are updated frequently, academia can do a better job keeping up with the quickly changing technology, ensuring their students walk away with a strong foundation and an understanding of current trends. This approach aims to equip students with the crucial skills needed to learn in its essence – more than simply their course material.

As technology advances, students will need to continue their education to keep up, whether it’s through online courses, reading articles, or upskilling at work. As a university, preparing students to enter this type of workforce is important.


3. Increase pathways to gain credit for career services

Work-integrated learnings are often seen as separate and sitting outside the required hours and commitment to academic credit and curriculum.

Regarding career services, 1 in 3 graduating seniors walk away without ever connecting with the office, as it’s not mandatory. In total, only 36% of universities offer for-credit career courses, taking this proactive step for career education and understanding to be part of the degree, not simply an extra. 

If students are loudly stating that they are seeking a degree for career opportunities first and foremost, universities will need to stop making career services an add-on and start building it into the curriculum. This way, 100% of students can graduate from university with better career management skills and, potentially, work experience. 

Universities could consider adding a one-credit course that meets weekly to discuss job search planning, resume/CV building, interview skills, and more, ensuring that all students leave their degree program with a great foundation for their job search. Moreover, that course could be increased to three credits, wrapping project-based learning within working 6-8 hours asynchronously, and 2 hours synchronously through supervisor meetings.

If you built this into all university degree programs, you could boast 100% of your students engaging with career services. Even better, 100% of your students would be participating in a work-based learning program, which is the number one consideration employers are looking for when hiring entry-level employees. 

Taking career services and external work experience participation and building it into the degree experience would allow universities to highlight a more significant alignment with careers and industry in their promotions and recruitment strategies, boosting alumni outcomes, student retention, and raising the university profile. 


4. Allow students to build experience and certificates within studies

With employers looking to alternative hiring signals than a traditional degree, including certifications, work experience, and professional connections, and students increasingly looking at alternative programming (such as remote degrees, technical certifications, or bootcamps), universities could better embrace badging, micro-credentialing, and certificates into degrees. 

Universities could consider an upper-level course that allows students to gain not only crucial required credit to graduate, but also a certificate from a large employer. This technical certificate will allow the student to jump the line in the hiring process, clearly signaling that they have the requisite technical skills for the specific role and employer, backed by a broader degree. 

Building certifications and micro-credentialing into your programs while increasing employment outcomes also assists your core curriculum in remaining agile and up to date with industry trends, as you will have brought industry voice, requirements, and assessment into the classroom. 


5. Embrace remote

The past three years have greatly accelerated remote learning, engagement, and work.  As the dust settles on the COVID-19 shake-up, for universities to meet the needs of their students, bring career support to the forefront, and compete with new direct pathways to employment – universities should focus on offering remote options as well as on-campus support.

If the higher education system can lean into flexible online learning, and introduce stackable credentials and certification programs, you might discover a whole new population to engage and enroll in at your university.  

Universities could:

  • Review local employee connections to make them global – the barrier of commuting is no longer set with the possibility of remote work. This means graduates from a university in the United States can work for a British or Indian company without moving locations. As career services review their support to potentially become the connector of the industry to the classroom, while further bringing employer connections to the forefront of advising and support, going beyond the local economy will allow them to increase connections, introduce students to the future of work, and increase diversity.
  • Introduce increased remote micro-credentialing and certifications as introductory steps to a full degree or stand-alone solutions. If you already have a high-quality faculty, strong online teaching infrastructure, and employer connections, you can increase enrollment while enhancing your competitive edge by allowing direct enrollment for a certificate or micro-credentialing program only, or as a pathway to a fully online or hybrid degree. If students are asking for more remote programming, certifications, and direct connections to employers, make all three accessible in one easy program.
  • Prepare students for remote work – adapting your current career services curriculum to address applying and interviewing remotely, all the way to best practices in asynchronous work and digital communications. Taking it a step further, universities can build increased remote work experiences into degree programs due to their flexible and scalable nature – meeting the needs of diverse and busy students. Ensuring that students can navigate the job search landscape both in-person and remotely, as well as work dynamically in-office, hybrid, and remotely will allow them to gain better career management skills in understanding where they thrive, and demonstrate strong professionalism to any employer.
  • Continue offering remote classes and career services.  Students are time scarce. They need flexible solutions as they seek to gain crucial knowledge and skills for their futures in the working world. Maintaining quality remote access to degree-required classes as well as additional support services such as career services and student well-being will allow for engagement to increase across mediums by meeting the students where they are.


Give your students an unbeatable advantage

To gain the insights detailed in this article, we looked at what our university partners are doing to innovate and adapt to this new landscape. Many choose to integrate our program into their curriculum to give their students an unbeatable advantage, one that they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Our platform guarantees 100% of your students are matched with industry-specific internships in innovative companies worldwide in less than a month, increasing their work-ready skills and global experience

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