October 10th, 2013
The only source of knowledge is experience.
There are those who are book smart and those who are street smart. Some get their “education” from the school of hard knocks and some from sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher’s lecture. The rising cost of a college education and the anemic job market has many scratching their heads wondering if it’s worth it. However, not having a degree or too little education is also not an option in many industries where a bachelor’s or master’s degree is the norm. Someone with experience but no college degree may qualify for certain jobs but may find growth opportunities and advancements limited or non-existent. Yet, the four or six years spent sitting in college lecture halls and pouring over books and reports leave many little time to acquire the hands-on work experience potential employers are looking for when hiring. How do you prioritize between education and experience?
We’ve all heard the arguments from both sides. Proponents of a college education quote statistics and studies to demonstrate how a college degree helps a person’s employability and earnings while those who dismiss education as a waste of time and money remind us of the famous college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to prove their point.
Is education more important than experience or vice versa? The truth is they are not mutually exclusive but together are the combination needed to begin a career path and grow.
Recently, we received documents from an applicant who had attended a university in Australia and received a Master’s degree. When asked to submit his undergraduate documents for evaluation, he explained that the university considered his professional (work) experience and admitted him to its Master’s degree program in lieu of the earned bachelor’s degree. The university provided a detailed document explaining the methodology it employs in recognizing professional experience and qualifications for entry into its post-graduate degree programs.
Experience-based evaluations based on a set of guidelines/criteria by which professional practice can be recognized and applied objectively is an approach some institutions, especially in today’s market, are adopting. The Australian institution in question provided the following criteria by which credits are allocated for the learning acquired through the experience, which in the case of the candidate being evaluated was in the field of music:
1) Nature of training
-Mode of learning, teachers and so on
-Any other relevant considerations (partially completed degrees/non recognized qualification etc.)
2) Nature of professional practice:
-Professional Referees /Peer Recognition
-Other relevant professional experience/considerations: Recording contracts/nature of collaborations/performances
In addition, candidates for this mode of entry to the Australian university mentioned are required to provide relevant documents that support their case for admission, including recordings, press reviews, letters of reference, proof of prior study and so on that can be examined by the subcommittee (comprised of the Head of Department, Program/Curriculum Developer, and one Faculty member).
Recognizing experience, that is; proven and well-documented experience-based learning is one approach institutions of higher learning can take into consideration offering individuals the opportunity to bring the knowledge gained through hands-on experience into the university classroom environment.
Another approach is implementing work-based training/experience into the degree program so that the college graduate leaves not only with a diploma highlighting his/her ability to think analytically and logically, demonstrating his/her exposure to an intellectually stimulating environment, but with basic skills set of experience in solving real-world work problems.
According to a recent Northeastern University survey, higher education students and employers strongly support experiential learning where a student’s classroom education is integrated with professional work experience. An interesting finding in the Northeastern U. survey shows that nearly 75% of hiring decision-makers surveyed believe students with work experience related to their field of study are more successful employees, while 82% of graduates from experiential learning programs say the experience was valuable for their personal and professional development. The business world is taking notice and sees the link between academic with industry as a big step forward.
Some Universities, like Purdue U. have in place study-abroad opportunities as experiential learning models. This international experience is seen as exactly what their students need in order to polish their talents and become more competitive in the global market place.
Experiential learning programs represent a logical blend of the old adage of hands-on-learning in the work place and a college education. Even the White House is a fan of experiential learning programs. James Kvaal, the Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House has commended Northeastern and Purdue for “delivering good value for students and continually improving and innovating.”
Education, a great foundation for any professional, is no longer enough in a competitive marketplace. One way to stand out among other professionals who have the same degree is to show work experience, whether acquired through a paid-full-time job, volunteering, apprenticeships, freelancing, internship or part of co-operative work placements of their college degree. The debate is no longer about education “or” experience, or education “versus” experience; it is about the right combination of a successful academic history and relevant work experience.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI