Summer is ending and for parents, this time of year is bittersweet. The children are back in school and our children will face new challenges. One fascinating thing about the school over the past two decades, however, is that the standard progression has changed.
Previously, we expected students to progress from year to year through high school. Many would go to a community college or university to further their education. A few might get a higher degree. But we expected that in their early twenties, people would drop out of school, pursue careers, and maybe start families.
The business world has accelerated, however. Companies can change their business model once a decade. For example, Netflix has gone from a DVD delivery service to a streaming service to a production studio in just 25 years. The skills required to succeed at work are changing just as rapidly.
Therefore, it takes more consistent learning to keep skills fresh and ready for the next wave of opportunities. Community colleges and universities have adapted to this environment in Texas. There are plenty of ways to get back to school that don’t require a huge commitment or even a first day of school photo.
One interesting approach is something called micro-credentials. These are short courses that can last a few days or a few weeks and aim to teach a particular set of knowledge and skills. This could include a focus on new technologies, but it could also involve the interpersonal skills that enable someone to be an effective manager or leader.
At the University of Texas at Austin, there are programs in engineering, business, and human dimensions of organizations that can provide key skills to prepare for new positions. At Texas A&M University, the MOOPIL project provides in-depth teacher training to help them meet the needs of students who are also learning English. Rice University also offers a long list of programs that include Computer Science and Data Science and Engineering Leadership. In fact, last year, UT Austin, Texas A&M, and Rice served more than 100,000 learners who returned to school.
Instead of earning a full degree, these micro-certification courses lead to a digital certificate or badge that can be easily added to a resume or posted on a social media profile. Many companies now offer a benefit to send employees to these programs to ensure their employees are upgrading their skills. After all, as Henry Ford said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
This lifelong learning is also a great way to stay away from the doldrums of work. Whenever someone acquires important knowledge and skills – whether they seem directly relevant to a current job or not – that person tends to see the world differently. This opens up new opportunities to engage with colleagues, customers, and clients that might have gone unnoticed before. It can also increase motivation when a job does not offer new challenges.
Perhaps more importantly, if your kids are still home and in school, there’s something wonderful about sitting down to do some homework alongside them. We often tell students that they need to be lifelong learners, but there’s no better way to bring that lesson home than for your kids to see it with their own eyes. Back to school should no longer be just for kids. We can make a more educated Texas as long as such opportunities are taken advantage of.
Art Markman is the vice provost for continuing and professional education and new education ventures at the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. Consult the instructions and drop your letter here.