3 Questions for Coursera’s Scott Shireman and Hawaii Pacific University’s Mark Rosenbaum

At its 10th annual Coursera Conference, Coursera launched Career Academy, a new training academy for higher education institutions that prepares students for the jobs of tomorrow. Universities and colleges like Hawaii Pacific University, University of North Texas, University of Arizona, North Central Texas College, and Alamo Colleges District (a group of five community colleges in the San Antonio, TX area), have been piloting the training with students.

I asked Scott Shireman, who recently joined Coursera as Global Head of Campus after decades at UC Berkeley and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Mark Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Dean, College of Business at Pacific University to discuss the new program and how it aims to address some of the pressing issues facing higher ed today.

Q1: With the cost of student debt and reported lack of job preparedness among students, traditional degrees are under increased pressure to prove their value in very practical terms. What’s behind this, and what can universities do to fix this?

Scott: I have been in higher ed leadership for 20 years and I really believe in the value of what universities and colleges offer. Critical thinking, coaching, and community – those are things that universities do exceptionally well. But they often lack a connection to industry, the fast-changing skills landscape, and employer demands.

Coursera can help with that link. We’ve built strong industry partnerships, working with subject matter experts at top companies like Google, IBM, Meta, Intuit, and Salesforce to understand what roles and skills are in high-demand. We’ve worked with hiring managers to understand what is needed when companies are hiring university graduates in a competitive and evolving job market. If you want to be a social media marketer, who is better than Meta to teach you the skills you need to land the job? That’s the foundation of Career Academy.

Universities need to give students a clear ROI for their degree programs and at the same time, companies have narrow recruiting pipelines and are desperate for talent right now. Cross-sector partnerships can solve both problems.

Mark: Hawaii Pacific University’s mission is to offer learners a practical, innovative, and experiential education. Our students come from all over the world with one goal in mind: to find meaningful employment.

We believe universities should give students a practical education that extends beyond their time on campus. That’s what students are looking for these days. I see a natural fit between a liberal arts education, a business education, and Professional Certificates from Coursera. They’re all working in tandem to make sure that Hawaii Pacific students not only find meaningful employment after graduation – but also that they have the management, communication, and collaboration skills needed to grow into leadership positions after acquiring entry-level jobs. Students don’t want to be underemployed when they graduate. They want to build towards a career with upward mobility potential that also fits their interests and passions.

Q2” What would you recommend to university and college leaders struggling to sustain student recruitment numbers in the current landscape?

Scott: Often when universities are thinking about student recruitment, they think about investing in flashy athletic facilities, lounges, dorms. The residential experience is still important, but I think students have gotten more pragmatic in their decision making, especially since the pandemic, and so have their parents. They’re looking at degree programs and asking: am I going to get a return on my investment? Am I going to get a job when I graduate?

In a 2020 Eduventures survey, student ranked career preparation as the third most important factor in choosing a college, after academic strength and affordability. Employability is something any university or college can invest in that will make a difference quickly in how students view their brand. We need more universities thinking about how they can invest in skills development, career training, and job placement services. A university can become a more competitive and differentiated brand in their county or state or region by actually placing students in jobs, whether those jobs are local or remote work.

Students want digital careers that are in-demand, flexible, and well-paying. Whether they’re 18 or 35 years old, they want to know that the degree they’re paying for is preparing them for what comes after.

Mark: Many of our students enjoy the weather and the beach on and around campus; Hawaii is a beautiful place. But the main reason students choose Hawaii Pacific University is our focus on employability.

Our student body is comprised of native Hawaiian students, local students, students from the US Mainland, and students from many international countries around the world, from Panama to Norway. For our international students, there is a concern that when they go back to their home countries, their employers may not know Hawaii Pacific University by name. It’s not a famous school outside of Hawaii, so it’s critical that we supplement our teaching with certified training from companies with global brand recognition.

Our partnership with Coursera allows us to fulfill our mission even while workplace demands shift at a rapid pace. Students are earning certificates from the world’s leading companies like Google, Meta, Intuit, Salesforce, and IBM. These brands are universal. Our students benefit from multiple signals in the labor market – their HPU degree and the certificates and skills training they complete on Coursera along the way. It’s a great way to recruit and retain students at home and abroad.

Q3: How does Coursera’s Career Academy, which offers job-specific certificates, skills training, and experiential learning address challenges facing students and faculty?

Scott: Coursera’s Career Academy is last mile career training. It complements the academic curriculum that universities already offer and do really well. Career Academy enables any academic institution (or business, or government) to give individuals – even those that haven’t earned their degree and those without any prior work experience – the opportunity to learn the skills needed to enter a high-demand, entry- level job.

Students can explore in-demand careers including Data Analyst, UX Designer, Project Manager, Application Developer, and Social Media Marketer. They can review each role’s skill requirements and average salary, find what they’re passionate about, and then graduate with an entry-level Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, IBM, and Meta alongside their bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

They also get hands-on experience with actual tools of the trade and complete projects that can set them apart in interviews and on-the-job. For example, an aspiring Data Analyst can practice SQL, Python, and Tableau, while UX Designers can build projects using Figma and Adobe Creative Cloud. I think it motivates students when they’re able to make that kind of real-world progress, when they are able to take what they’ve learned, and apply it with real tools.

Mark: Years ago, when we would teach a course, the content didn’t really change from week to week, or even year to year. Today, data science, cybersecurity, social media marketing, ecommerce, application development, all of these fields are changing – should I say on a daily basis?

As a College of Business Dean, I am assured that Career Academy students are obtaining skills that they desire and that are related to current job openings. HPU business students are learning cybersecurity from IBM, data analytics from Google, sales development from Salesforce, and bookkeeping from Intuit. The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive because students see a clear career path. It’s helping them improve their qualifications for in-demand, high paying jobs.

Career Academy is a critical layer on top of our degree programs. Within my university, faculty have high teaching loads. We’re a teaching-oriented institution, and any faculty member must be at the top of his or her game in terms of teaching content. What I find amazing is that Career Academy is freeing up my faculty to do what they do best: teach!

We’re seeing faculty start to build on Career Academy certificates to flip the classroom. Students are applying the skills they’re learning from their certificate programs and with projects on Coursera. And faculty are thinking, I can bring more of that into my classroom too. I can make my classroom truly experiential. Students can work together on group projects, have class discussions about real-world business problems, go on field trips, and talk to alumni and local business leaders. In other words, Coursera’s Career Academy facilitates practical, innovative, and experiential educational experiences.

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