Building Trust Between Employers and Higher Education

In his early July post, "The Value of a Non-Degree," Jay Titus referred to a Wall Street Journal article as an example of the frequent dialogue around the value of certificates, the fastest growing segment of higher education programs.

In that same WSJ article, the author explained that industries had lost trust in traditional higher-ed programs and their ability to provide employees with specific skills. Certificates are a response by the universities to meet the need for targeted learning. But, she added, because of this historic lack of trust, there is still a skepticism about the long-term value of certificates.

The Speed of Trust

Immediately, Stephen Covey's book "The Speed of Trust" comes to mind.  Covey asserts that trust is the "hidden variable" in the formula for organizational success.  Strategy x Execution x Trust = Results.

In other words, even if certificates are a strategic response to the need for targeted learning and are delivered with high quality, employers will always doubt both their value and potential ROI if they do not trust that higher education understands their businesses and can drive results. At EdAssist we see this this lack of trust fueling employers resistance to modifying their tuition assistance policies to include these new and often much-less-expensive resources.

So, how does the higher education community rebuild the trust?

Continuing to use "The Speed of Trust" as a resource, Covey maintains that there are 13 key behaviors that establish trust.  Let's look at a few of these:

Listen first

In their day-to-day jobs, faculty and university leadership often have to serve as "experts," so "listening first" can feel almost counter intuitive.  But, in order for faculty to create certificates that serve the needs of organizations, they must listen to, and understand, what the organization needs. One way to "listen" is to go to industry events as an attendee (versus a presenter). Listening to presenters and following up with thoughtful questions demonstrates that ideas were heard. Such an approach is not only a very good way to develop effective programs, it also builds trust.

Get better 

With the time it takes to create new courses and get approval for new pathways of study, it is very tempting to launch a certificate but not revisit the outcomes.  However, the nature of targeted learning and our changing economy is that the target will shift depending on the need of the employee/employer.

One way to ensure that results are continually improving is to use students who are managers as sources of feedback.  Universities could incorporate into their curricula a knowledge-share element in which the students share what they've learned with others in their workplace. These same students can then provide feedback to the universities on what worked well, what didn't, and what questions people had.  Such approaches can bolster trust and credibility by demonstrating to employees and executives that the certificate programs yield results.

Deliver Results

An effective way to show results is to ensure that certificates serve as building blocks to continuous and future learning. For example, University of Phoenix and American Intercontinental University both have recently announced new credit-bearing or "stackable" certificates.  These certificates can be applied to a Bachelor's or Master's degree.  What better way to show credibility than by deeming this way of learning as credit-worthy and structuring certificates to create educational momentum?

What are your thoughts?

These are just a few suggestions.  From your perspective as an employer or school, what else can be done to create trust?  How can universities and employers create a foundation for employers and universities to work together effectively and efficiently to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the economy in which we live?

We'd love to hear from you - share your opinions in the comment section below.    

Written by: Jessica Kaplan

About the Author

Jessica Kaplan at Bright Horizons

As Director, Talent Management, Jessica is responsible for connecting employees and management to the most effective learning and development opportunities offered by Bright Horizons. She also helps facilitate internal collaboration for organizational success. Jessica brings nearly 20 years of experience in professional development and higher education administration to her role. Prior to this role she held key roles in the Client Relations and Academic Partnerships teams. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University, a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University and has completed PhD coursework in International Higher Education Policy at the University of Maryland.