If you’re like many online college students, the purpose of going to school (or back to school) is more practical than personal growth or sheer curiosity. You want to enhance your career prospects. Maybe you’re seeking a career change or just the qualifications you need to get a promotion in your current field. Before you invest your time and money into earning a college degree, online or otherwise, you want to know that the coursework you’re studying will give you the skills and knowledge employers in the field are looking for in job candidates.

A Focus on Practical Career Skills

Between the tough economy, the skills gap that makes it hard for employers to find the right talent and student demand for a practical education, many colleges – particularly online ones – are more focused than ever on providing an education that matches employers’ needs. As you search for an online school, you’re sure to find a number of “career-focused” online colleges. These schools often include benefits like hands-on experience components, degree paths that are relevant in today’s economy and the option for competency-based credit.

Partnerships for Developing More Skilled Workers

Research has shown that many employers aren’t impressed with the skills that college graduates have. In research polls, close to one-third of business leaders surveyed found that students hadn’t developed the knowledge and skills they seek in employees, according to Campus Technology. This skills gap makes it more difficult for both employers to find the workers they need and for graduates to find good jobs.

One solution currently being explored is a partnership between industries and higher education to make sure students can get the skills they need to become valuable workers online. Community colleges, in particular, are leading the change.

Campus Technology reported that two organizations, the social learning platform CorpU and the nonprofit organization Jobs for the Future, have brought together a group of employers and community colleges across the nation to address the problem of students coming out of college without the right skills for employment. These organizations – collectively called the College Employer Collaborative – will work together to develop online college course curricula that helps bridge the skills gap by giving students the training and knowledge they need in the workplace. The curricula of these online courses will even inform traditional campus-based classes, so that students can become more skilled workers regardless of whether they get their education in a virtual or physical classroom.

As an online college student, you need to know that your education will provide a real value to you, and that you’re not putting in the hard work – not to mention the time and expense – for nothing. By seeking out career-focused schools or community colleges involved in partnerships like the College Employer Collaborative, you can be sure that your degree is more than a very expensive piece of paper, and that the education you received included the skills that real employers are looking for.