The QA Commons is mindful of the dramatic and transformational impact COVID-19 is having on all institutions of higher education. As an organization, we are adapting our services to support preparing graduates for the workplace that is now changing more precipitously than ever.
This Op-Ed, written by QA Commons Founder, Ralph Wolff, was published by Real Clear Education on April 17, 2020.
As higher education grapples with the enormous administrative and teaching challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to respond to the impact on the employability of our students, especially those graduating this term.
Today’s students come to our institutions to prepare for work, to build meaningful careers, and to generate sufficient means to participate in the multiple opportunities our society and economy provide. Can these goals be achieved in the current environment? In order to gauge the impact of the current situation and project a bit into the immediate future, I canvassed a number of faculty and administrators from community colleges and universities over the past several weeks. While much is uncertain as to what the economy and job market will look like in three to six months, let alone a year, we can identify a number of likely consequences, especially for current graduates and job seekers:
Experience with the 2008 recession suggests that these difficulties will follow today’s graduates for some years, resulting in higher rates of under and unemployment, and lower earnings even when employed. Thus, special efforts need to be made right now to assist students to be prepared to compete in this new marketplace. This is a responsibility of faculty as well as career service officers — indeed of the entire institution.
There is much that needs to be done as courses and programs are reconfigured to be all online. In this environment, current and future students need to know that their program will provide them with the skills needed to be competitive, as well as agile and adaptable for a volatile workplace. Here are some steps that need to be taken:
The cost of higher education in these uncertain times will likely lead to a dramatic increase in the demand for shorter term credentials and especially those that focus on or include the essential employability skills. Many students may be unwilling to return to ‘traditional education’ systems and will want access to shorter term credentials with more immediate economic payoff or programs that can demonstrate effective preparation for employability beyond the first job.
In working with more than 40 programs in all types of institutions across multiple disciplines, we have found that too few programs address employability in an integrated fashion, such as described above. The need to do so is greater than ever. Just as we are witnessing a shift to online education, unthinkable even six months ago, so too we now need to make the development and demonstration of employability skills central to the entire higher education enterprise. We owe it to our students to transform our institutions to integrate academic, technical, and employability skills since they are all related and connected to one another.
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