Virginia Economic Review: Second Quarter 2020

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E D U C AT I O N A N D W O R K

Many More Cheaper, Faster Pathways to Good Jobs RYAN CRAIG Managing Director, University Ventures @ryancraigap SINCE COVID-19 BEGAN throwing

millions of people out of work, Google has seen an explosion in searches for online courses. But we’re not seeing any uptick in searches for degree programs. How can this be when we’ve just entered the biggest recession in nearly a century and when one-third of respondents to a new Strada survey say they’ll “need additional education or training to find another job with the same wages or income”? Even before the pandemic, prospective students were increasingly focused on employment outcomes. A generation ago, only about 50% of students enrolling in degree programs indicated that employment was their primary or sole motivation. Recent surveys consistently placed that number north of 90%. And with tens of millions of Americans newly unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19, the market of potential students is now even more employment-centric. The essential value proposition of the current universe of bachelor’s degrees is this: Pay upfront and work full-time for four-plus years for a chance at getting a

good job. For a market now firmly set on achieving a positive employment outcome in as little time and with as little financial risk as possible, it’s no wonder we’re not seeing an uptick in searches for degrees, and why colleges and universities are as nervous as cats in a roomful of rocking chairs about how many students will show up this fall, and for future falls. Students are searching for faster, cheaper pathways to good first digital jobs. As COVID-19 has laid bare the gap between digital haves who can work remotely, and nondigital have-nots who must show up at a physical location, students will increasingly insist on pathways with a high probability of landing them in the former category. Some of these pathways may continue to require tuition. Others may not guarantee employment. But many will provide an improved value proposition for students. Higher education’s message to the economic victims of COVID-19 cannot be that they should borrow tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of sitting in classrooms for years on end with no guaranteed path to a good job.

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