Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the global economy, forcing millions of Americans from their schools and workplaces, our most vulnerable citizens were struggling to achieve the economic and social mobility promised by our education system.
Huge numbers of undergraduates—disproportionately from low-income and minority communities—start college but don’t make it to graduation, missing out on the benefits that come with degree completion. Even those who do earn degrees may find themselves ill-prepared for a fast-changing labor market—a disconnect often noted by employers but too seldom recognized by educators.
Worse yet, millions more working adults don’t have a foothold in the postsecondary system at all. Most at risk are low-income, Latino, Black, and Native American learners and workers—those who, for decades, have been disproportionately disadvantaged in our economy and under-represented on our college campuses.
In short, we have failed to prepare enough Americans for “the future of work.” And that future is now upon us.
Strada Education Network’s Public Viewpoint survey, as well as data from education and workforce experts around the country, indicates that even once the pandemic is under control, millions of Americans will be unable to return to the jobs they’ve lost—or in some cases, even to the industries where they have built their careers.
As in past economic downturns, many Americans see education as a crucial tool in their recovery. Increasingly, however, many people are seeking faster and less-expensive pathways to developing skills that will help them get ahead in the labor market. The college path, while often valuable, serves only one-third of Americans, even in the best of times. Our country’s education system will now require much greater capacity—and more varied providers and options—to meet the needs of all learners.
It’s time to do things differently.
Even before the pandemic, Strada Education Network had proposed the creation of a new learning ecosystem that would enable all Americans to transition seamlessly between education and employment throughout their careers, whether they seek traditional college degrees or earn certificates or credentials through non-traditional providers, online programs, or on-the-job training. That fluidity between learning and earning is key, not only to helping individuals and families progress, but to improving workforce development and facilitating long-term economic growth.
Clearly, the pandemic presents enormous challenges to our already strained education and workforce ecosystem. We believe it also presents an opportunity—and a mandate—for state policymakers to collaborate with forward-thinking educators, employers, community organizations and funders—not to replicate the same underperforming system we have now, but to mobilize and create many new pathways in a new learning ecosystem.
We offer the following blueprint as a guide to reenvisioning how we can transform our postsecondary education and workforce system to address the critical needs of learners and workers, communities, and our economy as we recover from the events of 2020. The six key elements of this blueprint are devised from listening to education consumers—past, current, and prospective students—as well as policymakers, educators, employers, and philanthropic leaders, and from learning about reforms already being advanced that show promise to scale across the country.
A call to action
At Strada Education Network, we believe that by convening and mobilizing educators, employers, policymakers, workforce experts, and community supporters, we can leverage real-time data and the best minds in states and communities to identify and fill gaps between in-demand job skills and the education and training that will help job seekers obtain those skills.
The future of work is here. The time to prepare all Americans is now.
To move from vision to action, Strada is interested in partnering with states and communities to plan and build a new learning ecosystem.
Through Recovery Incubator Grants, we will support select states that:
Building a new learning ecosystem that works for all Americans and for our economy will not be easy. It will require a willingness to think differently, to work hard, and to commit time, energy, and resources. Most importantly, it will require intensive collaboration and information sharing, within and among states. But with millions of Americans and the health of our nation’s economy at stake, we cannot wait to act.
We have the blueprint. Let’s start building today.
At Strada Education Network, our mission is to improve lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment. We marshall research, funding, and guidance to transform America’s education-to-workforce system to better serve learners and earners throughout their careers. We invest in and partner with states, education providers, employers, community organizations, and innovative companies to build an education system that works for all.
To learn more about Strada and our mission-aligned affiliates, please explore the resources below and visit stradaeducation.org.
Report: New Learning Ecosystem
Public Viewpoint Survey
Video: Adult learners
Lessons Earned Podcast (interviews with innovators in education and the workforce):
More Research and Insights:
Strada Institute for the Future of Work
Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights
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