Almost every organization, across industries, embraces a business model which seeks to maximize its user base. Institutions of higher education are perhaps the only notable exception. In fact, universities, in the U.S, take great pride in their selective status, built on very high standards of merit, prohibitive tuition fees and quotas for alumni that work to shrink the pool of open seats.
This flies in the face of the right to education, which recognizes the obligation of nations to enable equitable access to tertiary education. It also fails the country’s economic interests by exacerbating a serious skills dichotomy that is seeing millions of Americans remain unemployed (8.4 million in August 2021) even as millions of jobs go unfilled (10.1 million).
‘…there is a way for these institutions to become more accessible without diluting the resources or prestige of on-campus schooling.’
But there is a way for these institutions to become more accessible without diluting the resources or prestige of on-campus schooling. I’m talking of a recurring subscription model of education. This is a model where everyone wins. In the context of education, a recurring subscription model’s benefits would touch not just providers and consumers, but also the unemployment-unfilled jobs dichotomy.
Supporting employers in sustaining employability
In a report released in late 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that 85 million jobs would be automated by 2025. Low-skilled workers (desk clerks, data entry operators) are much more likely to be out of work, but high-skilled, highly prized workers (AI experts, data scientists) will still be able to operate from home if pandemic conditions persist. Also, by 2022 WEF portends that 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change.
The message, clearly, is that workers need to constantly move upwards in skill and job-profile to remain employable. But given the scale, diversity and the short half-life of skills, it is becoming impossible for organizations to train employees all on their own. Also, with in-demand skills changing rapidly, in a matter of months even, paying for employees to attend one-off year(s)-long executive programs in university is making less and less sense for employers.
This is where a recurring subscription model of academic learning (with a template not unlike Amazon Prime or Walmart Plus) can be a game changer. By adopting this model as an adjunct to on-campus education, American universities can create a skills movement wherein they provide recurring, small-sized, absolutely up-to-date on-demand learning, interwoven with work, to their subscriber-learners, lifelong. Then, instead of sponsoring employees to attend college, employers can sign them up for job-relevant micro-courses (for example, deploying data analytics or AI, using low code platforms across business functions) that they can take throughout their careers and beyond a particular employment tenure too. This would help employees move upward in their jobs (and therefore avoid retrenchment) and give employers a vast pool of employable talent to fill those high-skilled positions that are today lying vacant.
‘This would help employees move upward in their jobs (and therefore avoid retrenchment) and give employers a vast pool of employable talent…’
Making high quality learning highly accessible
Today’s job market has broken away from chasing college education to chasing skills, independent of a formal degree. Providing people with a fair chance of acquiring the learning that makes them attractive to employers is the key to solving the talent-job dichotomy in the U.S. today. For generations, the higher education system put those who couldn’t go to college because of race, gender, economic status, or other factors, at a disadvantage for life. A recurring subscription learning model can undo some of that inequity by putting high quality, punctuated, job-relevant learning within the reach of a much larger number of aspirants. Colleges can continue to provide undergraduate/ graduate education with the same exacting standards of admission, while offering quality learning online to a large subscriber base, including alumni, lifelong and profitably.
With decline in state funding, universities have had to carry the burden of operating expenses mostly on their own. Regular revenue from recurring subscriptions will ease the load by creating a consistent year-long revenue stream supported by the right levels of investments in personnel, IT and other resources. Institutions can expand enrollments, without the corresponding need to expand amenities like dorms and classrooms. On the other hand, insights from a growing number of subscribers, at different stages of career maturity, can be ploughed back to sharpen offerings. This could lead to new courses being developed inviting even more enrollments. This, in turn, will serve to expand the reach of the educator and institute creating a virtuous cycle and a self-powered engine of growth.
Educational institutions have always played an important role in shaping a country’s job market. But the de-facto practice of higher education being only for the privileged few, is out of sync with a market where skills – more than degrees – are “employment currency”. Digital innovators, such as Google Career Certificates, Udemy, Coursera and Codecademy, stepped into this gap by providing micro-learning for learners seeking this additional reinforcement. But the need of the hour now is for our workforce to have an avenue to update their skills lifelong, without the associated spikes in investment, and as a natural benefit that accrues, across a career and lifetime, by virtue of being subscribers of a chosen university. U.S. institutions should consider doing the same not only to earn additional – and very substantial – revenues, but also to avoid sharing the market with disruptive providers who will continue to emerge and get better at creating job-relevant, affordable, high quality learning opportunities for Americans.
Ravi Kumar is President at Infosys where he leads their Global Services Organization across all global industry segments, driving digital transformation services, consulting services, traditional technology services, engineering services, data and analytics, cloud and infrastructure. Ravi has over 19 years of experience in the consulting space, incubating new practice lines, driving large transformational programs and evangelizing new business models across industry segments. Connect with him through LinkedIn.