Upskilling Workers Calls for New Educational Models. ISAs Can Help.

Mar 08, 2019


Whether reading about breakthrough innovations, disruptions in business models, or shifting consumer habits, there is one theme in the news that seems omnipresent: the pace of change has radically accelerated. Not only are businesses struggling to keep up, workers need to update their skills continually to stay competitive and employed.

An often-quoted assertion from the book A New Culture of Learning estimates the half-life of a learned skill is only 5 years. Other research suggests almost a third of skills learned in “tertiary” education become obsolete after just 7 years. While these estimates vary, the sentiment seems universal: 91% of workers polled by the Economic Times feel their skills are becoming obsolete. This trend has implications for higher education.

On the one hand education is more critical, because to stay current and marketable, workers will need to reskill often. Millennials and freelancers, in particular, have accepted this new reality: 55% of Millennial freelancers have re-skilled in the last six months. On the other hand, the radical pace of change may also erode the perceived value of formal education, especially if that education is not directly tied to career paths or career growth.

Aggravating these conditions is the fact that people now change jobs frequently relative to previous generations. Studies estimate that the average time a person is likely to spend in a job is 4.2 years and that young boomers have changed jobs on average 11.7 times so far in their careers.

The model where students complete a huge dose of education upfront and take on the accompanying long-term student debt was a viable path for workers and employers when their skills were competitive for long periods of time. Now that students need to anticipate changing jobs, and possibly careers, more frequently, they are looking at the costs of education, and how to fund them, very carefully.

Witness the fact that while micro-credentials and MOOCs grow in popularity, enrollment in undergraduate programs has been declining for the last six years. Other factors like low unemployment are also at play, but it is clear many prospective students are looking at their schooling as an investment and are expecting a more tangible correlation between their education and their career outcomes.

While colleges and universities are responding to these desires in multiple ways such as offering strong continuing education and certification programs and tracking and reporting on graduate success, they may overlook an obvious opportunity: better financing. Shorter credential programs are often not eligible for traditional financing options like Title IV federal loans. In addition, schools can fight attrition of matriculated students who are still interested in degree programs by making the financing more affordable.

Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are an alternative financing option that can be used for any program the school stipulates, including credentials not typically covered through traditional loans. Schools can also use them as a way to equalize education by reducing the overall costs of financing and limiting the risks of repayment for students. At Leif we offer our education partners consultative services to design, deploy and manage successful ISA programs to help students, and schools, overcome the student debt crisis and reach their full potential. Our mission is focused on making education affordable for all, one student at a time.