Laurence Peterson writes for the Martin Center about a useful alternative to traditional higher education.

Even though experts believe college is still worth the cost, employers question the value to their businesses. Many believe college degrees do not provide graduates with the skills needed in today’s workplace.

In a 2014 survey of over 600 business leaders, only 11 percent strongly agreed that college graduates had the skills their companies needed. …

… One way four-year colleges could make their degrees more valuable (and marketable) is by embedding skills-focused courses in degree programs.

By asking local and regional employers about the skills they need, college leaders can create certificate programs within a major that makes students more employable. It could be the future of higher ed.

Certificate programs are packages of four or more courses focused on specific employers’ needs that teach students in-demand skills. Colleges could also mandate an industry internship as part of a certificate program, so students gain relevant working experience. Many of those courses will require adjunct faculty who actively work in the business world. Academics seldom have the experience or the industry perspective needed to teach those more practical courses, as they connect theory with real-world application.

As COVID-19 affects the job market, many students and recent graduates will need to reconsider their career goals. Industry-vetted certificates can be an effective means for students to make changes. Many certificate programs already exist at the graduate level, but there is no reason not to embed these in more undergraduate programs. Industry-vetted certificates may be the 21st-century version of academic “minors.”

For example, even STEM disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics don’t guarantee a job. Many will need to return for graduate education to be marketable in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and med-tech industries. However, with embedded certificate programs such as Regulatory Affairs & Clinical Trials, Forensic Chemistry, or Data Mining & Analysis, undergraduate students are eminently employable even before completing their degree.