Insights from Scarlett Howery, Vice President of the Campus and University Partnerships, DeVry University

As leaders, we’re facing some unexpected challenges these days. One of the biggest ones is the Great Resignation, or as some deem it, the Great Re-Evaluation. During this time, many people are reassessing their careers, their organizations, and what balance and flexibility truly means to them.

According to a Pew Research study, 63% of those who left their jobs in 2021 indicated it was due to a lack of opportunity for advancement. [Source] Having limited time and resources to gather the skills necessary is often a barrier to advancement opportunities. DeVry is on a mission to help change that.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce recently sat down with Scarlett Howery, Vice President of Campus and University Partnerships at DeVry University, to learn more about the trends she’s observed in education over the last two years as well as the ways in which DeVry University is trying to respond.

1. How has the delivery of education shifted in the past couple years?

For all the devastating effects we have endured during the pandemic, learning modalities became one of the most hotly debated challenges, and for good reason.  Virtual learning became the predominate modality and access to technology for underrepresented communities, although an issue for years prior to the pandemic, became a crisis that required swift and immediate attention.  

Many companies found it essential to shift their operating models online, requiring workers to enhance their technology skills and creating a skills gaps that remain to this day. DeVry wasn’t new to online learning, having been at the forefront of the space for more than 20 years, but we did notice a shift in our students when we moved everything online—many of whom were also transitioning their work online.

It further highlighted the need to provide our adult learners with the flexibility that was meaningful to them.

2. How do you ensure that learners are receiving the care they need when online?

It is important that organizations keep a keen eye on the mental health wellness of their teams. DeVry creates mechanisms for our students to do the same. While providing students with the technology necessary for online courses, we also encourage them to connect with their professors and discuss what they have going on. It may sound basic, but empathetic teaching is something we feel strongly about.

Opening lines of communication between teachers and students is critical to student success. Each student is also given a student support advisor (SSA), who helps support them through their time at DeVry. The SSAs provide an ear to listen, a coach to keep them motivated, and a guide to offer tips and tricks on how to integrate their school, work, and life. Our SSAs, career advisors, and faculty work together to meet students where they are in their educational journey.   

A recent example of this dedication to helping our students was being recognized by Gartner Eye on Innovation Awards for our Digital CARE Engine, which helps to deliver positive student outcomes.   

3. How does DeVry keep pace with escalating market demand for skill development—for both organizations and students?

As a university, we recognize that our role is two-sided. DeVry CEO Tom Monahan wrote an interesting piece on this very topic, “What can higher ed learn from Airbnb?” What I mean by a two-sided organization is that we support the needs of our students by understanding the talent needs of business and industry. The reason being, we’re helping prepare our students to fill critical skills gaps that exist in the marketplace today. Without that connection to organizations, our programs wouldn’t align to the work-ready skills we aim to teach. This also provides our corporate clients with a potential pipeline of talent for open and future roles, while also offering them upskilling and reskilling for their existing teams.

We look to industry to keep us informed through National Advisory Councils that provide insight that is considered when developing our programs. Part of those industry check-ins led us to develop our stackable programs. These allow our students to get immediate skills and apply them to their roles while they move through their learning journey. A “stack” can start with a certificate that “stacks” into an associate’s, to a bachelor’s, and so on. Programs can build on themselves and be flexible to where learners are in their career and learning journey.

4. In what roles and departments are you seeing increased demand for skill development and talent?

Recent geopolitical tensions and other well documented cyberattacks have illuminated the need for skilled and ready cyber talent. What that adds up to—a faster than average projected growth rate of 33%, on a national level, in cyber jobs from 2020 – 2030 [Source], and we’re aiming to help organizations close that gap. To add to this, women make up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S., but they hold only 25% of computing roles, and of those Black and Hispanic women accounted for 3% and 1%, respectively. [Source]  

In response to these gaps, we launched our Women+Tech Scholars Program to provide access and support to women launching their tech careers. This program offers mentoring, career services support and membership in industry organizations to prepare students for their career. We also introduced our undergraduate certificate in Cyber Security, which complements our other cyber programs, to get skills into people’s hands quicker and help them prepare for a career in cyber. 

We’re also working closely with our community college partners to establish direct pathways for students to transfer their qualifying credits into our programs and even offer a prior learning assessment process so students can earn credentials faster.

5. In the wake of 4.5 million American’s quitting their jobs in March 2022, how can organizations possibly keep up?  

Tactics for retaining people go well beyond salaries and benefits. It requires companies to create long term career pathways from day one and to acknowledge the diversity that makes up their workforce with robust resources and support. A few statistics to take notice of include:  

  • Individuals with professional development opportunities are 15% more engaged. [Source
  • Team members who have professional development opportunities also have 34% higher retention. [Source]
  • Organizations that have a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes. [Source]

Establishing professional development opportunities can benefit the individual, but that they are an even bigger benefit to the organization. 

When our team first connects with a potential client, one of the first discovery questions we ask is, “what are your retention goals and how is your organization performing to those goals?”  The answer to this question allows our team to support our clients with skill development options including our degree programs, certifications, and workshops. We tailor our educational partnerships to the goals of each organization and measure our success by the key performance indicators established by the client. 

6. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) continues to be on the top of leaders’ minds. How can organizations drive meaningful change?  

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is an organizational evolution that is owned by all departments and requires adequate resources to help train and develop leaders to recognize and effectively respond to implicit biases that impact everyone. I think there are four ways organizations can drive this change: 

  1. Create business resource groups: Also called affinity groups, these are intended to empower people to bring their authentic selves to work. That includes diversity of thoughts and actions. These groups can also give individuals a sense of belonging and ultimately produces greater creativity and enhanced innovation. If you don’t have these set up at your organization check out this infographic on how to establish a DEI council.  
  2. Skill leaders up on DEI: This likely isn’t a new concept to you and most organizations fulfill the basic required annual training. But consider taking it a step forward, especially for your leaders and future leaders, with coursework.  
  3. Establish an education assistance programs: If your organization doesn’t already offer tuition programs then you should start working on the plan now. These programs are vital to your people getting the skills and the degrees they need to advance their careers and fuel organizational growth. They’re also a great recruitment and retention mechanism. 
  4. Develop succession plans: These plans should acknowledge the talent development needs of diverse colleagues. We have talent templates that you can use to build a robust plan for each individual with learning pathways that meet their individual needs. Self-paced training may be great for some, while others will need cohort-based, high accountability learning pathways that help with success, your plan should reflect the skills they need and their learning style. And the good news, if you have an employee education assistance program, they could get the skills you outline for them affordably.

7. It sounds like universities are adapting well to the change in demand from students, and DeVry values your corporate partnerships to help stay ahead of skill demand in today’s job market. If there are organizational leaders who might benefit from some of the services DeVry offers through those partnerships, where can they go for more information?  

We always encourage those who want to learn more to visit devryworks.com. There they can find information about how we work with organizations, looking to keep pace with today’s market demands, by helping to upskill and reskill their teams through learning pathways.