Of the major problems plaguing the US and the world currently, I have found the education to employment chasm the hardest to comprehend. Climate change is depressing. But it is clear how the invisibility and delay of costs lead to disincentives for action in the present. Glacial health reform is aggravating, but it is clear why those who are deeply vested in the current pay-for-service model fiercely resist change.
In contrast, all parties involved in the education to employment gap should have strong incentives to urgently find solutions. Both graduates and employers bear significant and immediate costs from not finding a match. Additional costs of solutions should not be much more than what students are already shelling out for higher education (indeed they should cost less in many instances) or employers lost productivity and internal remedial training. And while higher education institutions may not have an intrinsic incentive to contribute to a solution (a reality they frequently remind us in their defenses of their inaction), they should receive sufficient pressure from their two customers – families and the government – who do.
For a relatively new observer of the problem like myself, the only conclusion is that there must be deeper and more convoluted problems than meet the eye. That there is a hidden labyrinth at the heart of the issue that can only be unraveled through political and operational wizardry – a golden compass to guide through the wilds of education to the promised land of employment – rather than the basic coordination it seems should suffice.
The Hechinger Report has been running a special series on higher education and employment that sheds some light on this mystery. Here is a brief summary of and my reaction to some the most interesting articles in the series to date:
Summary – Advisors are an important but endangered species. The one advisor for 367 students (or 1 in more than 1,000 in community colleges) can reduce drop-out rates. Technology can make advising more efficient and effective.
Sabot – Number of advisors shouldn’t be the issue – it should be about outcomes and quality. Its good to see innovation in this key function, but how many colleges are tracking data like those from Arizona State (increase in graduation rate from 26% to 42%, though doubtful that can be causally linked to advisory model) versus just seeing advising as an easy place to cut costs.
Summary – Facing pressure to improve relevance and student employment, universities are cutting already anemic career services (budgets down 16% nationally). In larger universities, there is one brave career counselor for every 5,876 students.
Sabot – Even the success outlier in this story is appalling. Wake Forest has a revamped career center – paid for by millions in additional donations from parents and alumni. The message: we can’t be bothered to devote the fortune you pay us to career services – if you want your child to be employable, you have to cough up more. A request like this should prompt angry campaigns to reallocate admissions and the very fundraising staff who wrote the letter to career services (and perhaps a rude gesture), not a check. Such donations are accomplice to mismanagement, not philanthropy.
Summary – Clearly mapping out what students need to do to complete a degree and get a job rather than letting them randomly take classes leads to higher rates of, well, earning degrees and securing jobs. The conclusion: “All the data says the same thing: If you know where you’re going, you’re more likely to get there.” – Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
Sabot – This is our golden compass? I am a huge believer in evidenced-based decision-making. But we needed extensive research to reach a revelation that showing students what they need to do to reach their goal will help them do it? If this is indeed a large part of the answer, the 3.7 million jobs vacant in the US and the millions more around the world are a shame on all of us, and education institutions in particular.
There are more articles in the series, which I hope to blog about shortly. Most of all, I paradoxically hope that they reveal that the solutions are more difficult than they seem, but that they are can now be quickly rolled out regardless of the cause of our collective failure to date.