Take Five with David Schejbal, Part II: Creating a more responsive degree program

(For Part I, click here.)

David Schejbal, dean of continuing education, outreach, and e-learning at University of Wisconsin–Extension, is fully immersed in a novel degree program. In Part I, we discussed the mechanics of micro-credentials and the University Learning Store. In this installment, he talks about his vision for a more responsive degree program.

IB: Do you think the best way to further reduce Wisconsin’s unemployment rate — it’s dropped to 4.5% but obviously there is still a ways to go to achieve full employment, which comes when unemployment is at 4% — is to create more new jobs or to improve job training to fill open positions.

Schejbal: Let me try to answer it this way: I think that what we really need to do is help people be resilient in times of economic downturns so that they are able to move into other jobs. The best way to help people be resilient is through education. We saw that with the Great Recession that we just went through and the huge difference between folks with degrees and without. The percentage of unemployed people who didn’t have degrees was far greater than people who did have degrees, and the ability to get back into the job market was much faster for those who did have more education. I think for Wisconsin we really need to focus on helping people be resilient and education is absolutely critical for that.

IB: This requires a different mindset, almost like education á la carte.

Schejbal: We’ve been offering traditional degrees based on the credit hours since 1907. In this country we just need to expand that process. A number of people have asked me if we want to replace traditional degrees based on credit hours and my answer is absolutely not, but we need to grow the pie. We really need to provide opportunities for people who aren’t looking to spend two or four years of full-time study in college to get the kind of training and education they need.

And to have an experience like you would have in a department store, where you can truly tailor what you want to buy, regardless of the manufacturer of the product. For us, this is why we have the various partner campuses. We want to create a learning experience that’s tailored to individual needs, just like when you go to a department store and you buy slacks from one manufacturer and a shirt from somebody else, and a jacket from a third, and you put those on and they fit you well and then you put them in the closet and they fit with the stuff in your closet. We want to create that experience so that people can really self-serve the kind of education they really want and need.

We certainly aren’t presumptuous enough to think that we know what’s best for Wisconsinites or what’s best for Americans in general. We need to have that conversation with them and to provide them with opportunities to self-serve.



IB: What happened in the recession is more proof that the link between educational attainment and earning power in a person’s lifetime is very strong. I would imagine we’re going to have to improve education on the front end and the back end if we’re going to have an impact on income inequality.

Schejbal: We absolutely do. On average, Americans change jobs every 4.4 years, and they especially change jobs often when they are younger. Many of those job changes require additional skill sets, but they don’t require going back for a full degree and they certainly don’t require people to spend years in college. They really require people to come back and consume education in ways that meet their individual needs.

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