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Over the last year, the Cengage team has been meeting with our academic partners across the country to learn more about the unique challenges they face in their mission to support today’s learners. In every conversation, whether it’s students, faculty, or leadership, we hear a similar story. Students are coming from all walks of life, all with varying needs to be met. Faculty are working to meet those needs, but it’s often more than one person can accomplish.
Giving all students the education they deserve and need to be successful in their careers takes an entire ecosystem working together. It takes a growth mindset and leadership and faculty that are open and excited to try new things. It takes new tools and a willingness to stray from the comfort zone.
“‘If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes,’” says Dr. Anthony Perone, teaching administrator and academic advisor at Warren County Community College. “So as far as Warren County Community College is concerned, we want to be the lead dog, we want to get out there. We’re a small school, yet we make a large impact into our community, and that’s a great and positive thing. We change people’s lives for the good. What better job do you have than that?”
I’m not only encouraged by the change that is coming to higher education, I’m inspired by those leading the change. Here are just a few of the ways I’m seeing our partners drive change in higher education.
Affordability & Flexibility of Resources
The national average a student spends on textbooks per year is $500 and we’ve been seeing institutions build affordability initiatives to slash that cost. Whether using Inclusive Access, Open Educational Resources, rental programs, or subscription models, we’re seeing that there is not just one affordability mix.
Just before her final semester at Warren County Community College, we spoke with Kora Flizack-Sloan, a student who has faced challenges, but is constantly driven to achieve her goals. She’s taken college-level courses since her junior year of high school, changed majors to better suit her interests, and is now going on to continue her education thanks to the support and resources she has received.
One of those resources, Cengage Unlimited, gave Kora the freedom to pursue what she was truly excited about – her future and career – without having to worry about finances. Warren County Community College partnered with Cengage to provide all of their students day-one access to their courseware and materials in one subscription.
“Being able to have the opportunity to not have to face finances over l what I really want has been a true blessing,” says Kora. “It’s been very, very nice to just be able to say, I can go to school. I can do this.”
Building a Soft Skills Strategy
Cengage is also working to meet the needs of learners in all walks of life, from those younger learners driven to succeed, like Kora, to those that are changing careers and learning new skills later in life. No matter what stage of life your students are at, they need essential soft skills that are often more important to employers than technical prowess.
In a 2018 survey, Morning Consult partnered with Cengage to talk to over 650 employers about the most in-demand skills. The rise of technology and automation is causing employers to look for different types of skills. Human skills, like communication, listening, critical thinking and interpersonal skills, are among the top skills that employers are looking for in new hires.
“Many of the students that are walking through these doors might not even have an inkling of what they want to do,” says Dr. Nancy Wilson-Soga, psychology professor and chair at Warren County Community College. “They will search on the internet, look at job areas, look at what pay scales would be, but still not really be grounded and sure of what they want to do.”
Key areas to consider when looking to build an employability strategy:
- How can you and your institution engage employers to validate and align on skills?
- Where can you embed employability skills into your existing curriculum?
- Where and how can you expose your students to employability skills outside of their courses?
- And, of course, what is your employability strategy?
Driven by a Digital Mindset
For Kora, interacting and having her resources on-the-go has been game changing. She said she enjoys having terms and definitions linked in her workflow while she’s reading her textbook.
“That’s been really, really nice too, to like have kind of like a teacher on my laptop.”
Again, it’s not just one thing. Students like to have flexibility and options that support them. Whether simple digital resources – like flashcards, compound learning activities, or interactive feedback – or complex AI, we’ve seen instructors both excited to have new tools and nervous about the change. Throughout it all, having an institutional leadership that listens and provides support in the change is key to success.
“Life happens, so to speak, and we try to also help students navigate that and provide resources that they can go to,” says Dr. Perone. “And you know, really help them handle these many challenges as a young person coming to school, and also as an adult coming back for education.”
Whatever life is bringing students, we all have a charge to meet them where they are. To listen to them and to give them the tools to achieve the mission they came to higher education to get. I look forward to continued conversations with educators spanning every role and welcome the opportunity to connect at OLC in Orlando this November.
If you would like to learn more about our collective work, I also invite you to our session “Beyond Graduation: Overcoming Obstacles to Reach Academic Success and Employment Expectations” on Wednesday, November 20 from 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.