Around the Western world newspapers are writing about lack of jobs for the degree-educated young, parents who question the value of degrees of any sort, academic concerns about ‘mickey mouse‘ degrees and employers concerns that degrees are insufficient preparation for the workplace. Meanwhile part-time and distance learning degrees continue to expand, professional associations demand evidence of continuing professional development and vendor certifications (especially in IS/IT) are increasingly time-limited so need regular updating. So, continuing education is both essential and potentially an expensive waste of time. To add to the confusion, degrees from different establishments are clearly not equal in their outcomes. Looking at the sports undergraduate module assignment that lists almost 60 obviously read, carefully referenced academic papers and thinking about the skills that requires compared to a business undergraduate assignment that references a textbook and a newspaper article, subject areas alone are insufficient to approve or condemn a route of study: it is essential to understand the institution and the required programme outcomes (what the student can do at the end of it). For the professional already in employment or the employer looking to develop their workforce, qualifications need to be seen to deliver; but deliver what, exactly?
For some employees, changes in human resource practice and promotion banding requirements mean ‘any old degree’ will do. Age, experience and ability count for nothing unless a degree is added to the cv. In these cases, pragmatic solutions may be the best: go somewhere that recognises as much of your professional experience as possible and complete as quickly as possible making sure, of course, that the institution is recognised by a reputable academic body (national government or, in the US, a Regional Body) and, if possible, that the programme is recognised by your own professional body.
For others, however, the questions are different. Do you want to know a lot of things and answer quizzes well or do you want someone to be able to sift information and solve problems in unfamiliar situations? A degree where most (or all) of the assessment is by multiple choice question is likely to produce the first outcome whereas the degree that requires those 60 or more bibliography entries is more likely to produce the second. There are still both employers and employees who want evidence of knowledge acquired and are simply not interested in main workforce thinking and research skills. Others, perhaps more engaged with the knowledge economy and economic change, want the thinking skills because relevant knowledge can be acquired on a just-in-time basis. Thinking skills can be honed in any discipline but a professional body is likely only to recognise ‘relevant’ degrees so you should check the approved list before you register. If an employee, it is also a good idea to seek advice from people in your workplace or industry about what a particular degree choice may mean for your career. It is not unusual to find that while the perception is that you ‘must’ go to X-ton, several key individuals went elsewhere. On the other hand, if X-ton really is the only route forward inside your organisation, someone may well know of a different organisation that would warmly welcome your personally preferred insitution’s degree and give you an introduction.
Whatever the route, giving up on learning is not an option for those wishing to remain, or become, employable.