7 Lessons Higher Ed Can Learn From The Great Resignation

By: Emma Rose May 27, 2022

7 Lessons Higher Ed Can Learn From The Great Resignation

How Higher Ed Can Weather The Storm of the Great Resignation

What will the great resignation mean for colleges and universities? Aside from the direct impact on staffing, it may also change how they think about and market to prospective students. After all, many adult learners turn to higher ed to help them get a better job or higher salary. Student-centered schools stay alert to employment trends so they can empower career-ready graduates.  

The Truth About the Great Resignation 

Pretty much every industry has been buffeted by the labor shortage hurricane. Everyone from Forbes and the Financial Times down to your local news channel is talking about it. Shuttered storefronts demonstrate the extent of understaffing, and it seems like everyone knows someone who quit their job in the last two years.  

The Great Resignation may not be the hot trend we think it is. Harvard Business Review paints a slightly different picture of the great resignation. An article by Joseph Fuller and William Kerr puts forth the idea that what we’re seeing is actually part of a greater trend, one that started long before the pandemic. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the quit rate has been rising since 2009.  

So when we talk about the great resignation, we may not be talking about a storm that will blow over. It’s more like a climate trend, something we’ll need to reckon with for months or years. It may be part of a greater cultural shift that’s affecting higher ed in multiple ways. 

It isn’t enough to just raise an umbrella and wait for the storm to pass. They may need to take more proactive measures to stay future-ready and meet the needs of the changing student population.  

Why Workers are Leaving and What This has to do With Education   

Workers who left their jobs in 2021 cited low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work as the top reasons why they quit. None of these sound like problems that higher ed can solve. But each of these reasons speaks to a need that isn’t being filled. Career-focused learners desire and need money, opportunities, and respect.  

These same underlying factors affect their choices about higher ed. They need to know how much it will cost and what they’ll get out of it. Students will consider the reputation of the program to judge whether completion will build knowledge and prestige that they can leverage into better jobs and higher pay. 

Interestingly, many high school graduates are plunging right into the workforce due to concerns about the value of higher education when compared to its cost. New high school grads without a degree are experiencing better wage outcomes than they did in previous recessions. 

Yet, sometime in the future they may hit an upper threshold they can’t cross without higher education. Forward thinking colleges and universities will be ready for these adult and working learners. They will craft marketing messages that speak to the needs of these learners and offer student support services that break down barriers to completion. 

Distributed Workforce, Remote Learning 

Another reason employees leave is a desire for flexibility. According to a Pew Research survey from December 2020, 54% of employees want to work from home after the pandemic ends. That’s good news for higher ed, because people with higher educational attainment are more likely to be able to work from home.  

About 58% of employees with a Bachelor’s degree say their work can be done remotely. That number rises to 68% for those with a postgraduate degree. By contrast, only 29% of those with some college but no degree say remote work is an option for them. 

Bringing learners who have some college back to higher ed can help them achieve their goal of greater flexibility. People with some college but no degree represent a market nearly 10 times bigger than the new high school graduate population. Future-ready colleges and universities need strategies to re-engage learners who have stopped out.  

People who want flexibility in their jobs are likely to seek it in higher ed too. Search volume numbers illustrate this trend. Although overall higher education related search volume declined in 2020 and 2021, searches for online degrees remained consistent.  

The Value of Skill-Ready Education 

It might be time to add more skill-ready certificates to your program offerings. Among people who said they’d try to upskill if they lost their jobs, 65% said they’d prefer a non-degree training program.  

Stackable certificates and micro-credentials make higher ed accessible to more working learners. They require a lower up-front investment and let students target their learning to their goals. 

Offering these certificates is just the first step. Next, thoughtful awareness campaigns can help potential students understand what’s available, highlight positive outcomes and show how the program will help working learners succeed in their careers. 

Forecast for the Future of Higher Ed 

Weather forecasts for more than three days in the future are notoriously unreliable and projections about the labor market may be equally difficult to pin down. However, agile colleges and universities aren’t waiting to see what happens. They’re already learning from the great resignation.  

They are:  

  • Building awareness to educate prospective students before they are actively shopping for schools 
  • Providing support services that meet the unique needs of these students 
  • Showcasing how their programs can help graduates achieve career goals 
  • Reengaging learners who have stopped out 
  • Offering flexible, online programs 
  • Adding stackable certificates and micro-credentials 
  • Eliminating age restrictions on historically continuing education or adult programs 

It’s all About Value 

What is your education program worth? That’s the question student-focused programs of higher education absolutely must answer for prospective students. Cost is a major factor for learners. As tuition rates rise, they’re becoming more outcome driven. The programs that thrive will be the ones that customize their marketing to the adult and working student with outcomes-based messaging.  

For the support you need to solve your enrollment growth challenges, contact the higher ed marketing experts at EducationDynamics.