Tag Archives: Postsecondary education

Where do MOOCs fit in? by Dean Cathy Sandeen

What is a MOOC? It’s a Massive Open Online Course and it’s all the rage in postsecondary education.

Basically, a MOOC is a self-paced online university-level course that is open to anyone and that is provided over the internet at no charge. Recently elite universities began offering MOOCs, including MIT and Harvard (through their collaboration called edX), and Stanford (through its partnership s with two different Silicon Valley start-ups, Coursera and Udacity). MOOCs span many disciplines, though engineering and technology courses dominate.

The ability to enroll and participate in these courses is free. However, documenting participation and successful completion is not free. MOOCs are well-suited to fields where specialized technical expertise is needed, where the student is highly motivated, and where documentation is less important. For example, there is currently a shortage of software developers and programmers. An existing software programmer might be able to gain additional expertise and skills to qualify for a particular position by completing a MOOC.

MOOCs also are well-suited for individuals who want to learn for the sake of learning and who do not care about any form of documentation or credential.

But what about the majority of individuals seeking postsecondary education for career purposes? Some form of documentation or proof that learning has occurred is required in this context. So the question becomes: Where do MOOCs fit into the postsecondary education landscape?

The following is an adaptation of the graphic from my previous post:

Besides providing a new option for non-credit lifelong learning, MOOCs may interact with other components of the landscape at a number of entry points.

For clarity, granting credit generally involves having course content and instructors reviewed by university faculty who are experts in the discipline; integrating valid outcome measures of student learning in the course (usually graded projects and examinations); and having the university or other entity record the student’s performance in the course on an official transcript.

Credit for MOOCs may be granted toward certificate programs through continuing education providers. Credit for MOOCs may be granted via prior learning assessment. Some universities have begun to offer a for-credit option (for a fee) for their own MOOCs. (In this case, the course may be massive and online, but it would not be “open,” i.e., “free.” A MOC, not a MOOC.)

The postsecondary landscape continues to evolve. MOOCs are part of that landscape and they support access and opportunity and multiple paths of entry for students pursuing advanced education. Right now, not surprisingly, the path for MOOCs seems to rest in the more non-traditional components of the system. It will be interesting to see how this develops.


Postsecondary Education Landscape by Dean Cathy Sandeen

There’s a shift in the higher education landscape. Or maybe it’s an expansion.  If we look at the entire landscape of postsecondary education—and not only traditional degrees—the picture is big, dynamic, and evolving.

But most importantly, I believe, the system is inclusive. The new postsecondary landscape offers multiple entry points, many formats, recognition for different forms of learning, and the ability to compound learning over time.  My first try with the following chart attempts to capture this environment.

The purple colored boxes represent what we have traditionally thought of as postsecondary education. These are various levels of college and university degrees, followed by some form of continuing education after degree attainment. (Any of these might be full-time or part-time, classroom-based or online.)

As you can see, this chart has a lot more than just the purple boxes.

At the top, in a red tone, are professional certificate programs. (I’ve also heard certificates referred to as “stand alone minors,” that is equivalent to a minor in a traditional degree.) These might be completed at any time during the postsecondary cycle of one’s life. One might start with a stand-alone certificate and work for a while. Then he or she might earn another related certificate and/or begin a degree program. Or, completion of a certificate might go in the reverse with an individual earning a degree (or two) first, then completing one or more certificates. Ideally, certificates are “stackable,” meaning they build competencies in a logical sequence and relate to one another. Most will be career related. Many also articulate into degrees—credit for certificates may be applied toward a degree.

Licensure and/or credentialing (light aqua blue box) fits here as well. These are usually provided by state agencies or outside professional associations and are sometimes mandatory to work in a field (e.g. law, medicine, real estate, etc.)

The blue toned boxes at the bottom represent prior learning assessment. Prior learning assessment—assigning academic credit for learning that occurs outside the classroom—has been around for a long time, but it is just recently coming into the spotlight. See recent Inside Higher Ed article here. Prior learning assessment is an increasingly important entry point into the postsecondary landscape for many individuals. For example, think about a member of the military who receives some credit for high level technical training completed as part of his or her service and then using this credit to jump-start completion of a degree program.

At the far right, what I’ve labeled “Lifelong Learning” represents learning for enjoyment and enrichment without a specific career goal in mind. The growing number of learning in retirement programs is one example of this category of postsecondary education, though it occurs at any time during the postsecondary life cycle. Lifelong learning may occur at a university, or at a museum, through an open online course, or any number of avenues.

The various arrows show possible connections and articulations among different components of the system. I acknowledge it is fairly simple to draw in the arrows. Forming real connections and pathways among real institutions and types of education will be more of a challenge.

When we talk about increasing postsecondary education completion in the US, this dynamic system is enormously promising.  Multiple pathways and entry points. Making every academic achievement count. Allowing growth and change over time.


The Other 40% by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I have written many posts about the importance of a four-year degree, the economic value of education, and the need for liberal arts skills. I also have written about President Obama’s completion agenda to increase US educational attainment at the secondary and postsecondary levels. I remain steadfast in my support of and advocacy for all these ideas.

I also wrote about “Industrial Darwinism,” an observation that employment in growing industries tend to require higher level thinking. Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2018 over 60% of US jobs will require postsecondary education, particularly a college education.

However, a question continues to trouble me: What about the other 40% of jobs? And, what about the individuals in those 40% of US jobs that do not require a college degree?


Manpower Group conducts an annual survey of the 10 hardest jobs to fill in the US. This year the list included: Skilled Trades (e.g. welding and construction), Drivers, Mechanics, and Machinist/Machine Operators. Those same jobs appeared regularly in previous years as well. Yes, that’s right. There are well paying jobs out there that do not necessarily require a college degree.

To further reinforce this dynamic, check out this great visualization by GE of US Job Trends from 1960 to 2011. Note as we move from 1960 closer to 2011, manufacturing jobs decrease dramatically (no surprise) and other sectors emerge, grow or contract. But the “Trades, Transportation, and Utilities” sector increases to become the largest, encompassing 25 million workers in 2011.

Such jobs are important to our economy and I submit that they have not remained static, but like everything else, have morphed and changed over time. The majority of jobs in the 40% require high level technical skills and higher level thinking—skills not taught in high school or not easily learned on the job.

It’s difficult to think of one job that has not become more technical and complex.

  • Manufacturing uses robotics.
  • Delivery truck drivers use tracking devices. 
  • Auto repair involves complex computer systems.
  • Custodial work requires handling and disposal of hazardous materials.
  • Childcare workers require knowledge of human growth and development.
  • Customer service and communication skills span most every job.
  • Bilingual abilities are required in most regions.
  • Let’s not forget the skills needed to start a small business.

Because of this, I like the shift in our thinking and rhetoric toward postsecondary education in all its forms including certificates and certifications as well as four-year degrees. And this broader notion of postsecondary education encompasses a way to serve the workforce in that 40% of non-college jobs.

The bottom line is this: To remain competitive the US needs to figure out how to provide postsecondary education at some level to nearly all the US workforce, those in the 60% that will require a college degree as well as the other 40%.


The Morrill Act is Part of our DNA by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Today is the anniversary of the passage of a key piece of higher education legislation in the U.S.  To commemorate this, I would like to pass along excerpts from a message I received from Gene D. Block, Chancellor of UCLA and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities:

“One hundred fifty years ago today, on July 2, 1862, in the cruel crucible of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law. Often referred to as the Land-Grant College Act, the law was a major milestone in expanding and democratizing American public higher education. . . .

Prior to 1862, the benefits of a college education were reserved for a very small percentage of the population. The Morrill Act expanded access to higher education to all segments of society, not just the sons of the privileged elite. Throughout the 20th century, as land-grant colleges and other public universities spread throughout the country, college enrollment among 18-to-22-year-olds rose steadily, and so too did our level of prosperity, both in California and across the nation. . . .

One of my favorite quotes about education comes from a 1786 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote, “Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement rising out of a democracy of opportunity.”

Those words—a democracy of opportunity—so eloquently describe the dream of public higher education. Let us draw inspiration from the vision and courage of the leaders who enacted the Morrill Act, and let us uphold its bold promise.”

An important message for us all to think about and remember.

Of course, post-secondary education is now increasingly accessible to nontraditional students and in nontraditional formats. As part of our DNA in U.S. postsecondary education, the groundbreaking Morrill Act lives on and continues to have an impact.