(Looking Back and Looking Forward takes look at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
While none of us know what the distant future really holds, we are able to detect trends that point to likely possibilities. I’m generally wary of prognostications that seem to be shaped predominantly by financial interests (Web3), but I tend to take note of potential future developments that gain support over time from many diverse sectors and viewpoints.
Such is the case with the UN’s latest report on climate change (spoiler alert: it’s rather bleak), and this paper from the International Labour Organization about shaping skills and lifelong learning for the future of work. The latter item is a reminder that we are reaching the end of the road for education models that do not provide demonstrable evidence of providing learners with specific skills that are requested by employers.
And, while I might have been sympathetic with an article questioning current discussions of ROI related to degrees twenty-five years ago, the world changed. The cost of tuition and fees (college) have continued to soar, outpacing every consumer good and service except hospital services. Employers, increasingly using job posting services like Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, and LinkedIn, parse and rank job applicants based on skills. In other words, a degree for most people has simply become a ticket to access a large section of the “Employment Exhibit Hall.” Skills, however, are what qualify applicants to actually be considered for specific job opportunities.
Here’s the bottom line. Students will struggle to compete in the employment marketplace, even if they have a degree from a decent university unless they can show evidence that they already have the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.*
In other words, we need to reframe our fashionable concerns about the value of a college degree to questions about the value of college degrees unaccompanied by clear evidence of both foundational and job-specific skills.
Yes, yes. we all want college students to flourish and find happiness. It’s just really hard to do that if you are saddled with debt and/or have no legitimate prospects for a productive career.
The possible exception is for students that (1) are pursuing degree programs with specific career pathways and that focus on profession-specific skills (Computer Science, Engineering, Accounting, Finance, etc.), (2) participate in one or more internship opportunities that align them with likely employers, (3) take part in significant project and volunteer opportunities that provide demonstrable evidence of specific competencies, and/or (4) have access to a strong professional network (including family connections.