By Dr. Patrick Bennett, vice president, academic quality and planning and dean of the School of Education, Franklin University.
According to a US News Report, there will be a shortage of over 400,000 home health aides, almost 100,000 nursing assistants and lab techs, and almost 30,000 nurse practitioners in the coming years. A study from Elsevier found that 47 percent of medical workers surveyed plan to seek a new job in the next two or three years.
Not only is there a worker shortage in healthcare, people want more options in choosing how they prepare – an educational degree or a skills-based training program – for that career. We’ve come to the point where offering new pathways to employment are not only a nice option to offer, they are essential. Because the training required for healthcare employment is constantly evolving, these pathways must be responsive to industry and market needs. That means taking a new look at how traditional higher education and skill-based training work together.
Giving students flexible, practical options
Franklin University serves mostly adult, non-traditional students. These are typically career-oriented individuals who are very practical and seek to use their time as efficiently as possible. For them, education is not solely focused on getting a bachelor’s degree. It’s often about what can I use right away? Our programs have served students seeking full degree programs, but now we also offer skills-based programs. What we’ve sought to do, however, is to also stay true to our roots as a degree-granting institution, making it easy for students to apply their job training work toward degree credit they can pursue simultaneously or in the future.
As we say on campus, any school can get you started. Franklin can help you finish. In addition to awarding credit for specialized skill-development courses, we also evaluate practical experience such as what a student might bring from military credit, direct work experience, industry-recognized certifications, or previously earned coursework regardless of the institution. We believe that such life experience and practical, applied knowledge is valuable, so we address each student’s experience individually and consider how that experience translates into coursework that can count for credit. This is called articulated credit or sometimes prior learning credit and it is changing how skills training and traditional education work together.
As a result of our approach, students can begin their education journey through our FranklinWORKS Marketplace, get a professional certification, and then later leverage that same coursework toward a degree. For example, a student can be in the field working as an X-ray tech or pharmacy tech, and then later complete a degree by building on the original courses they took to get their certification.
Why partnerships with training providers makes sense
Having the right partners working with Franklin University is one reason we can offer so many flexible options to fit student needs. It is also why we can offer the latest education and training tied directly to what the employment market needs. One such partnership is with MedCerts, which serves individuals who want to enter or advance in the healthcare industry. MedCerts offers training programs that can be completed in relatively short time frames – months versus years typically required for full degree programs – for people who are looking for a quicker return on their educational investment. In some cases, this is driven by necessity, the need to find gainful employment quickly. Yet in others, it’s a person who is already working and looking to upskill or transition to a new career, or their employer is paying for their training.
These are typical scenarios for Franklin University. Like the rest of our short-term, skill-specific programs offered through the FranklinWORKS Marketplace, these training programs are meeting an immediate need for both the employer and the employee (or prospective employee). Understanding the overlap between what education institutions offer, what the job market needs, and what students are looking for is essential. Institutions like ours offer options and prepare people for careers faster, at a lower cost, and with the flexibility to pursue a degree in the future because we allow students to build on the coursework, training, and work experience they’ve already completed.
The importance of meeting students where they are
For academic institutions to adapt to the current environment, you have to see students differently. The idea that students are only making a four-year or two-year commitment is outdated. While workforce and education trends were already moving in this direction, COVID led many people to reassess their lives and alter their view of how learning happens. As these people realized they wanted to accelerate or change their careers, they also saw how they could easily get access to high-quality online education and earn microcredentials without leaving their homes.
Through our partnerships with organizations like MedCerts, we can welcome students into our learning community for shorter initial time periods, giving people exactly what they need to advance their careers. In many cases, these people then become long-term community members because they enjoy and benefit from continuing their education, and decide to pursue a full degree.
We take pride in helping to form lifelong learning relationships with our students. Degree-focused work can fit before, during and after their career training and retraining. In this way, learning isn’t static and redundant; instead it’s stackable and progressive. Regardless of one’s path to Franklin University, we give them an opportunity to continue moving forward in their learning journey.