Are the Next 50 Years Getting Longer?

BY Celisa Steele

The issue of college education—is it still relevant? is it worth the financial investment? what are the alternatives?—has cropped up on on my radar several times of late.

Last Tuesday the Brookings Institution issued the report Should Everyone Go to College? (Spoiler alert: The answer to the report title’s question is no.)

Last Wednesday Diane Rehm devoted an hour to “Who Benefits From College And Why.”

And last Thursday The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi ran a Scared Straight-inspired session with students on the verge of ruining their lives. By going to college. (The five-minute segment is embedded below—if you need a laugh, take the time to watch it.)

The debate covered by these shows and and this report seems particularly important to those in the business of professional development and lifelong learning, like associations.

The Implications for Associations

I see both threats and opportunities for associations.

The main threat is carrying on as you have on the past. Assuming what’s worked for your education business will continue to work seems a dangerous position in today’s world where we both have unemployed college graduates and a dearth of qualified candidates in some fields.

The opportunities have to do with what associations might do to help fill the gap that’s being created as the value of college education erodes. (And looking at opportunities here dovetails nicely with Jeff’s series of posts on Blue Ocean Strategy.)

Associations already have a great opportunity to play a formative role in the “other 50 years.”

The Other 50 Years

Think what else associations might do if that 50 years begins to stretch back and start earlier, as higher ed becomes less de rigueur and more dispensable.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Is your association prepared to attract future employees in the new college-degree-optional world that seems to be emerging? Should a college degree be listed as a requirement for a new hire, or are there other ways to assess candidates’ readiness?
  2. If you offer a certification, does it make sense to have a college degree as a prerequisite? Could something else, like prior work experience, substitute?
  3. How can your association contribute to the quality and viability of your field in a world where college degrees are of questionable value? How can you help ensure those working in the field are well equipped to do their job? Can you offer apprenticeships that become an alternative to, or supplement for, college?

What other implications do you see? What other questions does your organization need to consider?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


P.S. Here’s “Stay Out of School,” Aasif Mandvi’s Daily Show segment I mentioned above—enjoy.

See also: Could associations replace college?

  1. tamer ali says:

    Great post, Celisa.

    Tagoras’ 2012 posting on this topic an your posting really hit home to key issues we face in professional education.

    I see opportunities in many areas but here is a few quick rough thoughts:

    1. Too much thinking about “stores”, hosting webinar recordings, and dispensing “CE”: although it’s important to sell and obviously important to help constituents meet CE requirements, the OVERALL theme should change to lifelong learning and professional development.

    If we impose this thematic blanket on all the work that’s conducted in an education program, a member can be led thru a process of milestones and have much more predictable behavior (as in revenue and loyalty) than simply listing opportunities to take topic-based content.

    Associations are uniquely qualified to serve as the central trusted authority and “portfolio” of all experience a person has throughout their profession.

    this all can still occur in the era of more regulation (CE, licensure, CME, MOC, and other guidelines)- and these driving forces are further going to drive needs up. We shouldn’t look at satisfying these CE/CME/license events as “annual”goals, but part of lifelong goals.

    2. The data shows that there’s a need- associations can fill the gap. As you nicely captured in the visual, after university, there’s a gap. While there will be vertical giants like Khan Academy to fill on-demand needs, the Association is the only “valid” alma matter the professional can go to repeatedly for professional needs. yes, there’s likely a grey market of competitors- but who will the professional trust with a repository of their experience? And who will they trust to vet content/knowledge/education opportunities from the market? I think the answer is the association.

    tamer ali
    digital ignite

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Tamer–I agree that associations are uniquely positioned to provide lifelong learning, given the trust and sense of affiliation their members can feel, and that associations that move beyond transactional education to a more holistic view of learning are going to be the ones who can really make something of their unique position.

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