New report weighs in on higher ed's role in labor market
- Though advances in technology and automation are unlikely to lead to extensive unemployment, they will be disruptive for many workers. And the current state of education in aiding worker transitions is not sufficient to reduce the costs of worker dislocation, according to a report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank for science and technology policy.
- The report advocates that "higher education’s job should be education; and credentialing [...] should be a separate function, ideally done through some form of testing." In addition, the report states that the U.S. Department of Education can create a program to accredit organizations providing professional certificates, so that employers begin accepting such credentials in place of traditional college degrees — opening doors for institutions to be analyzed on their teaching quality, rather than value of their degrees. Policymakers can also make sure federal aid and Pell Grant eligibility are available for flexible online learning options.
- If degree reform is not possible, the report encourages development of new technical colleges focusing on workforce-relevant skills, and it recommends state legislatures reduce funding inequality between four-year public schools and community colleges to ensure more students — especially low-income students — graduate and are employable in high-demand fields. Furthermore, it recommends institutions focus more on ICT skills, encourages policymakers to spur private-sector investment in skills training, and supports apprenticeship programs as well as industry-led skill alliances.
Recommendations from ITIF are reflective of actions that are taking shape in Congress and the White House, as President Trump's FY2019 budget and the Higher Education Act focus heavily on the intersection of the workforce and education, with mentions of expanding funding for STEM programs and funding for federal work-study programs, and looking into Pell Grant eligibility for short-term credentials.
Steve DeWitt, deputy executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education who spoke on the report findings this week at an ITIF event, explained to Eduction Dive that while educators are taking steps to address workforce needs, there is still more that can be done to give students lifelong transferable skills.
"There needs to be improved alignment between education and employers. The focus should be on broad skills development in the early grades and high school building to more specific skills training at the postsecondary level. Every student should have access to strong career development opportunities beginning when they enter education," said DeWitt.
"Many of our high-quality career and technical education programs are delivering but at the secondary level,these programs are often electives and don’t receive as much support as needed. There are many other issues that need addressing beyond alignment of programs such as more transparency regarding the value of certifications, access to financial aid for students who are not full time students, and dissemination and support in helping educators understand and better utilize economic information that are indicating the jobs that will be available in the future," he said.
Seeing the effects of automation and technology on the workforce, and within a changing higher education landscape, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, at a Committee on Economic Development’s policy conference last year, told higher ed leaders if they want their institutions to survive, they have to think outside of the box.
“Most universities are like elephants. They’re big, they’re slow, they’re bureaucratic, and they don’t want to change,” he said. “There’s already a long tail of credentials that have no value with employers — certificates have even less [value]. We’ve tended to address this with a supply-driven mentality.”
The bottom line, Gee said, is that institution leaders need to adapt to employers' needs as they consider the transitioning role of higher education. Otherwise, innovation may be the equivalent of moving like a slow “elephant,” rather than like a quick and calculated “ballerina.”
This ultimately means, Gee added, that institutions need to think more strategically about the pipeline. One way to achieve this is by establishing partnerships between the community, workforce and K-12 and higher ed systems to ensure smooth each level is preparing students for the next.
DeWitt agreed there needs to be more collaboration across the board. "One of the primary recommendations is to get policymakers and their staff to visit programs so they can see firsthand what is happening in classrooms. We also need employers and educators to be doing the same. Educators and employers do not always understand each other and that is something we all need to work to address," he said.
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