Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Finish College.

Degree Completion Programs for the Real World

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Finish College »

For adult students contemplating a return to college, the journey is not merely about earning a credential; it’s about ensuring that the investment yields real-world results. In the dynamic landscape of today’s job market, selecting a degree completion program that aligns with current industry trends and demands is paramount. This article delves into the importance of industry relevance in degree completion programs, shedding light on how incorporating real-world applications, industry-specific projects, and internships can significantly enhance the educational experience.

The Shifting Landscape of Industry Demands

In a rapidly evolving job market, industries are constantly reshaping their expectations and requirements for prospective employees. This means that degree completion programs should always evolve to stay attuned to these changes. “Degree completion majors must be inherently career focused” said Bridget England, M.Ed. Director of Degree Completion and Graduate Program Enrollment at Walsh University. “Students are coming to us so they can find specific, elevated employment opportunities. Our programs are only successful if we offer majors that lead to in-demand jobs and focus on building industry-specific skills.” England also emphasized that “universities must constantly reevaluate degree completion offerings to align with labor trends and industries with minimal barriers to entry. This calculated approach allows students to maximize their return on investment.”

To gauge a program’s industry relevance, try to focus on programs that exhibit agility and responsiveness to emerging trends. This involves a comprehensive examination of the curriculum, faculty expertise, and the program’s commitment to staying up to date with industry shifts. Andy Atzert, the dean of Adelphi’s College of Professional and Continuing Studies, says that one way colleges are making their programs relevant to employers is by including industry content. “We’ve recently given students free access to certificate programs by Google, IBM, Meta and other companies as a complement to our degree programs, and faculty can also use the content of these programs – which are constantly being updated –  as a part of their regular courses.”

Bridging Theory and Practice: The Value of Real-World Applications

One hallmark of a relevant degree completion program is its ability to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. You’re not seeking an education in a vacuum; they are pursuing skills and insights they can apply immediately in their professional lives. Programs that incorporate real-world applications in their coursework provide a valuable advantage, allowing students to see the direct relevance of their studies to the challenges they may encounter in the workplace.

Industry-Specific Projects: A Glimpse into Professional Realities

Adult students returning to college often seek programs that offer a glimpse into the intricacies of their chosen industries. The integration of industry-specific projects provides a unique opportunity for students to apply their skills in a context that mirrors the challenges and nuances of the professional world. Whether it’s a business simulation, a consulting project, or a collaborative endeavor with industry partners, these projects serve as a bridge between academia and the workplace.

Internships: The Test of Professional Development

Perhaps one of the most direct routes to industry readiness is through internships. Degree completion programs that facilitate internships or cooperative education experiences will provide you with an invaluable chance to immerse yourself in a professional setting. Internships not only offer a practical understanding of the day-to-day operations within an industry but also allow students to build a network, gain mentorship, and enhance their résumés with tangible, on-the-job experience. Walsh University’s Bridget England explains that “while internships are invaluable, it’s often difficult to convince adult students they are worthwhile. With many degree completion students working full time and/or taking care of children, universities must be creative and flexible with internships. An increasing number of organizations are offering virtual or hybrid internships—these are equally valuable experiences and often more accessible to adult students. Additionally, universities must evaluate academic policies to ensure that degree completion students can realistically fit internships into their schedules.”/

Skills and Knowledge Employers Seek

To further illuminate the importance of industry relevance in degree completion programs, it’s crucial to understand the specific skills and knowledge that employers seek in graduates. Through interviews with professionals across various industries, a consistent set of sought-after attributes emerges:


Employers value individuals who can adapt to changing circumstances and evolving technologies. A relevant degree completion program should instill adaptability by incorporating emerging trends and fostering a mindset of continuous learning.

Communication Skills:

Clear and effective communication is a cornerstone of professional success. Programs that emphasize written and verbal communication skills, along with opportunities for presentations and collaborative projects, foster graduates who can articulate their ideas persuasively.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving:

The ability to analyze complex situations, think critically, and propose effective solutions is highly prized. Degree completion programs that encourage these skills through real-world applications and projects empower students to become problem solvers in the workplace.

Collaboration and Teamwork:

Almost all professions require collaboration. Programs that promote teamwork through group projects, simulations, and interdisciplinary activities prepare graduates for the collaborative nature of modern workplaces. England underscores the importance of collaborative learning: 

It’s not always easy for degree completion students to see the value in group projects. After all, students have differing schedules, often attend school online, and may not feel compatible with their group. This is actually the value of group work! Nearly all professions require collaboration, to some degree, and there are now four generations in the workforce. Enrolling in a degree completion program places you in contact with students of all ages from different backgrounds. Group work is actually one of the best things you can do to prepare for new career opportunities where you’ll undoubtedly work and collaborate with a diverse set of people.

Bridget England, M.Ed.   
Director, Degree Completion and Graduate Program Enrollment

Technological Proficiency:

In an era dominated by technology, employers seek candidates who are technologically adept. Degree completion programs should integrate relevant technological tools and platforms, ensuring that graduates are familiar with the tools used in their respective industries. Dean Atzert notes that all of the courses in his college’s degree completion programs provide opportunities for students to acquire and sharpen these in-demand skills. “A required history course, for example, may not at first seem relevant to the job market, but adult students quickly discover they’re actually learning lessons about leadership, communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and using technology to conduct research.” 

In the pursuit of degree completion, you’re not just seeking a diploma; you’re investing in your professional future. Choosing a program that prioritizes industry relevance through real-world applications, industry-specific projects, and internships is a strategic move toward professional success. The link between education and employability is strengthened when your academics are directly aligned with the demands of the professional world. For adult learners, the journey back to college becomes a roadmap—one that leads not just to a degree but to a career that is truly real-world ready.

Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Finish College.