The disconnect between what education consumers - past, current, and prospective students - want out of higher education, and the knowledge and preparation with which they believe they graduate, has abounded for years. In multiple studies, higher education leaders report, at a very high percentage, that their institutions are doing a great job preparing students for the working world. Yet, only about a third of students and employers agree. The disconnect is clear.
This problem is not novel, but our current situation is. Our higher education system, its value already under scrutiny from the public eye, is buckling under the weight of our present challenges. Many leaders in our field, however, see this as a major opportunity to evolve a system that is notorious for being resistant to change and slow to fully respond to students’ needs.
“We are experiencing a systemic change process, which is very difficult to facilitate or initiate. It is happening in our institutions, communities, and globe right now. We have a choice of either trying to just survive it, hopefully get out on the other side, and replicate the status quo, which we know is not good, or we have the opportunity to take advantage of the systemic challenge we have in front of us and lead the change to a more equitable, effective, and sustainable reality as individuals, organizations, communities, and planet” shared Dr. Daniel Pascoe Aguilar, Associate Provost for Immersive Learning & Career Design at Drew University, on July 1st at a Career Everywhere Conversation webinar facilitated by uConnect.
Dr. Pascoe Aguilar was joined in the Career Everywhere Conversation by Dr. Dave Clayton, who leads the Center for Consumer Insights at Strada Education Network. David Kozhuk, Founder and CEO of uConnect, facilitated. A partner of both Strada and Drew University, uConnect’s mission is to encourage lifelong learning by empowering colleges and universities to integrate career planning into the campus culture and daily student experience.
Since 2016, in partnership with Gallup, Dr. Clayton and his colleagues at Strada have surveyed over 350,000 United States adults, capturing their sentiments about education and work and its value in their lives. They seek to understand where individuals are finding value, relevance, impact, and benefit in their education. As Coronavirus emerged in the United States, Strada’s Center for Consumer Insights quickly focused specifically on understanding how the pandemic is impacting U.S. adults’ plans for education and work, through their rapid response ‘Public Viewpoint’ survey.
The Strada Public Viewpoint findings are revealing. More than half of all workers surveyed over the past four months had lost income from work and over 60% of those who remain employed have worried about losing their jobs. Importantly, a third of people in the workforce believe they would need more education or training to replace a lost job - but not just any education. The data is telling us that people feel they “need education that's going to quickly move me into that earning power and the economic opportunities that I want,” says Clayton. And because of the public perception that traditional degree-granting higher education may no longer be the best means to this end, when asked what type of programs U.S. adults would pursue if they enrolled in more education in the next six months, only 25% say they would pursue a traditional bachelor’s degree or higher.
COVID-19 has also made education plans more volatile. 41% of young adults ages 18-24 say they’ve canceled education plans, and 22% state they’re delaying them. Dr. Clayton emphasized that “educational plans” could range from interest in pursuing education to a submitted deposit, but none-the-less, these numbers are unprecedented.
Black and Latinx students, who across the board have felt the adverse impacts of the pandemic at a much higher rate than white students, are more likely to have delayed or canceled their educational plans than altered them. Yet, these students are also more likely to report intent to enroll in education within the next 6 months. As Dr. Clayton noted, BIPOC and people of color are at 8 or 9 percentage points more likely to report that pursuing education would put their health at risk. And yet, “they’re leaning into education in a way that is stronger than white individuals.”
Strada’s public viewpoint research also found that 25 to 44-year-olds are just as likely to express interest in enrolling in education as 18 to 24-year-olds. On top of that, the 25 - 44 demographic also reports a stronger belief in the value of additional education - a belief that it will pay off and make them a stronger job candidate.
With all of these pieces put together, higher education has lots of adapting to do in order to meet the needs of today’s consumers, who are more diverse, older, and more career focused than ever before.
How then, should higher education capitalize on this moment of massive disruption in order to better deliver on the actual needs of their consumers?
Of course there is no silver bullet. But for Dr. Pascoe Aguilar, several decades of experience across almost 10 higher education institutions has led him to understand that there are a few key areas upon which we must all focus. To summarize,
- Expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion must be a primary focal point in every layer of our work, starting at the institutional level and moving down to each individual and unit, building capacity and redesigning their practices to develop equity in students’ access to opportunities and to facilitate the identity and intercultural development of all students.
- Student career development must be intentionally elevated to an institutional and community priority. The full on- and off-campus community needs to be activated to support student career exploration and development. The career services unit should shift to become the facilitator or broker of connections, experiences, opportunities, and support for the students, rather than the sole provider or subject matter expert.
- Institutions must focus on building digital capacity, inclusive of all their student support services, networks, and opportunities, in order to increase accessibility so that all students have the ability to engage from anywhere, at any time, and at their own pace.
The Career Everywhere Conversation webinar series brings together experts for virtual discussions centered around the career preparation of postsecondary students. All webinars are free to attend. The fourth episode will be announced shortly, so keep an eye out!
And if you're interested in learning more about uConnect, just enter your email address in the form below and a member of our team will get in touch!