Workforce Preparation

The Bachelor’s Degree: An outdated proxy for workplace skills?

By Anne Kauth on July 12, 2019

“Jobs don’t require degrees. Employers do.” When the Hechinger Report published Lawrence Lanahan’s article querying “What if we hired for skills, not degrees?”, it was the latest in a recent barrage of thought pieces exploring a pressing issue for working adults and employers nationwide: the bachelor’s degree gating mechanism for jobs providing financial stability, including so-called middle-skill jobs. 

A growing number of organizations – educational institutions, intermediaries in the labor market, and employers themselves – aim to rethink bachelor’s degree-driven hiring for 21st Century jobs. Few of them however have effectively tackled the root pain points of the two-sided marketplace that degree-granting programs serve. Foundry College is addressing the needs of both employers with hiring challenges and with their would-be hires, working adults in the United States pursuing higher education, by rethinking skill development in the degree-granting educational segment most ripe for innovation: the two-year college. Thus, we are driving towards providing the best possible skill outcomes for working adults, leading to financial stability, while also providing a degree that employers can rely on as an indicator of skill mastery and ability to perform in 21st Century jobs from day one. 

From an employer’s point of view, a Foundry College education solves two large problems that hiring managers grapple with regularly. First, the pipeline problem: 69% of 800 surveyed HR executives report that they have trouble filling middle-skills jobs, which require more than high school but less than a four-year college education; such middle-skills jobs now account for 54% of the U.S. labor market. Fully 50% of surveyed executives said the skills shortage is “problematic” or “very problematic” for productivity and business growth. The Foundry College Associate Degree in Business Management is intentionally designed to prepare a pipeline of qualified candidates for these jobs. Second, the retention problem: many employees don’t perform on day one due to poorly scoped job needs or lack foundational skills that allow them to adapt as their jobs change. Employee turnover and vacancies are estimated to cost US companies $160 billion annually; employee turnover costs employers an average of 21.4% of salaries. By emphasizing appropriate alignment of skill and competency development in a degree program with true needs of employers, Foundry College facilitates a movement away from Bachelor’s Degree-as-proxy and towards a sustainable solution to both the pipeline and retention problems.

From a working adult student’s point of view, Foundry College meets them where they are at providing a set of knowledge and skills that not only are in demand by top employers today, but also unlikely to be automated in the foreseeable future. What we teach will help our students adapt to a continually changing workplace, and is delivered in a way that satisfies the constraints of their busy lives and unique learning needs. 

Each Foundry class session includes a mix of lecture and active learning exercises. Our instructors bring the best of “brick and mortar” to the computer screen, creating real-time connection to their students. Whether it’s teaching a course on personal soft skills, practical problem solving, or navigating work, our instructors utilize live online learning to create focus, provide background and context, and convey complex material—ensuring that our students understand why the material is important and how to apply it effectively in their daily lives.

At Foundry College, we believe that a two-year college program such as ours can be sufficient for students to learn the essential skills and knowledge that will help them be successful for the rest of their lives. Such a program can teach students how to reason well, solve problems creatively, and learn quickly and with mastery. A strong work ethic, self-motivation and social, emotional and leadership skills are key components for success in today’s economy. Equally as important, the Foundry College program delivers a degree that employers can trust as a true proxy for the skills needed to succeed in, and stay in, high-demand jobs. 

The Foundry College team do not hold our views in a vacuum. We know that both students and employers must be confident that a degree program delivers skills and knowledge that students need to succeed and to perform. As the ecosystem of higher education institutions, employers, and policymakers wrestle with the notion of appropriate prerequisite qualifications, we raise our hands to say that an innovative associate degree may be the solution for 21st Century jobs.